NEW YORK — Two balls launched into the seats, one fired over the first hitter’s head and just like that, David Wright and the New York Mets are right back in a World Series that has suddenly turned testy.
Wright homered and drove in four runs, Curtis Granderson also connected and rookie Noah Syndergaard set a nasty tone at the start of a 9-3 victory against the Kansas City Royals that trimmed New York’s deficit to 2-1 Friday night.
Syndergaard’s first pitch was a 97 mph fastball just off the inside corner and above the head of a ducking Alcides Escobar, eliciting a loud cheer from fans as the ball sailed all the way to the backstop. The skinny shortstop went down to the dirt on his rear end and stayed there, legs splayed, catching his breath for several seconds.
“I feel like it really made a statement to start the game off, that you guys can’t dig in and get too aggressive because I’ll come in there,” said Syndergaard, who alluded Thursday to having “a few tricks” up his sleeve for the leadoff man.
“My intent on that pitch was to make them uncomfortable, and I feel like I did just that,” he added. “I think every postseason game that Escobar has played in, he’s swung at the first-pitch fastball, and I didn’t think he would want to swing at that one.”
Escobar, having a huge postseason, acknowledged it was an eye opener.
“I didn’t like it one bit. He was saying yesterday that he had a plan against my aggressiveness. If that’s the plan, I think that’s a stupid plan,” Escobar said. “I cannot fathom a pitcher would throw to the head a 98 mph pitch on the first pitch of the game.”
Royals players spent the next few innings shouting at Syndergaard from their bench.
“I think the whole team was pretty upset. The first pitch of the game goes whizzing by our leadoff man’s head,” Mike Moustakas said. “I think all 25 guys in that dugout were pretty fired up.”
Syndergaard had a stern response to that, too.
“I certainly wasn’t trying to hit the guy, that’s for sure. I just didn’t want him getting too comfortable,” said the 6-foot-6, 240-pound pitcher. “If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away. I’ve got no problem with that.”
Shut down at the plate in Kansas City, the Mets broke loose and chased Yordano Ventura early during the first Series game at Citi Field. Aided by more unsteady fielding from a Royals team known for tight defense, New York got hits from nine different players and finished with 12.
Pitching on Halloween eve, Syndergaard recovered from a scary start and went six innings, giving the Mets the winning performance they didn’t get from fellow studs Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom at Kauffman Stadium.
“He delivered,” manager Terry Collins said. “He came through exactly as we expected.”
Another rookie, hometown kid Steven Matz, will attempt to pull New York even Saturday night in Game 4 when he faces 36-year-old Chris Young.
After the Mets fell behind in the first inning, Granderson started the bottom half with a single and Wright hit his first World Series home run, recharging a packed crowd of 44,781 that included Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Dennis Miller.
“It’s one of those memories, at least for me, that will stick with me for the rest of my life,” Wright said.
The captain, who entered batting .182 without an RBI in his first World Series, added a two-run single on Kelvin Herrera’s first pitch during a four-run sixth that broke it open.
Pinch-hitter Juan Uribe, just back from a chest injury, had an RBI single in his first plate appearance since Sept. 25. Slumping slugger Yoenis Cespedes added a sacrifice fly.
“We were relentless,” Wright said.
In a matchup between two of the hardest throwers in the game, Syndergaard turned up the heat on a brisk night (52 degrees and windy) while Ventura lost some steam.
“He just wasn’t sharp,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “Fastball velocity was down. Made a couple mistakes.”
Syndergaard, who beat Cubs ace Jake Arrieta in the NLCS, struggled early against a Royals lineup minus slugging designated hitter Kendrys Morales and was only a couple of batters from coming out of the game, Collins said.
But the big right-hander aptly nicknamed Thor found his groove just in time and got stronger in the middle innings, when Harvey and deGrom had faded in Kansas City.
Syndergaard set down 12 in a row, five on strikeouts, before loading the bases with two outs in the sixth. He retired Alex Rios on his 104th and final pitch to the delight of fans who showed up in long, blond wigs and Viking helmets with replica hammers in their hands.
Hoping to rekindle the comeback spirit of 1986, when the Mets rallied from an 0-2 World Series hole to beat Boston for their most recent championship, the team played its highlight video from that year on the large scoreboard during batting practice.
Local boy Billy Joel sang the national anthem, same as 29 years ago at Shea Stadium, and Syndergaard grabbed everyone’s attention with his first sizzling fastball.
“It was the only location he missed all night,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “No one in here is stupid. We know what he said.”
Escobar led off Game 1 with an inside-the-park homer on Harvey’s first pitch. This time, the ALCS MVP wound up whiffing on a 99 mph heater. Yet the Royals hardly looked intimidated as they scored three runs in the first two innings.
They ran themselves out of a chance for a bigger outburst when Alex Gordon was thrown out at third by rookie left fielder Michael Conforto, the safe call reversed following a replay review.
Syndergaard was a little shaky fielding his position but helped himself at the plate. He singled leading off the third ahead of Granderson’s second homer of the Series, a line drive off Ventura into the front row of seats in the right-field corner.
That put the Mets ahead to stay at 4-3, making it the first World Series game with three lead changes in the first three innings, according to STATS.
Royals: Young won the opener in relief Tuesday, throwing 53 pitches and striking out four over three hitless innings. “My body feels fine,” he said. “I’m not worried about bouncing back.” The 6-foot-10 Princeton product, who has overcome a string of substantial injuries, went 5-9 in 24 starts for the Mets from 2011-12.
Mets: Matz made all of six major league starts during the regular season, and his World Series assignment is storybook stuff. The 24-year-old lefty from Long Island grew up a Mets fan about 50 miles from Citi Field. He planned to sleep at his parents’ home Friday night and commute to the ballpark, just as he’s done for much of his rookie season. “We’re on off hours, so there’s not much traffic. It’s not too terrible,” Matz said. “It’s been pretty awesome to be able to do that.”
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