For a variety of frustrating reasons, Noah Syndergaard never got the chance to see if he was up to starting Game 7 of the 2015 World Series on Tuesday night, or if he could have handled a raucous crowd against him on the road, along with a relentless Kansas City Royals lineup which loves to put the ball play and never quits, in a one-game, winner-take-all situation.
As tough as that realization was for Syndergaard, his team and their fans to deal with on Sunday night, it didn’t stop Syndergaard from rightly looking at the bigger picture one day after the Mets completed their historic World Series meltdown and suffered the gut-wrenching indignation of witnessing the Royals celebrate on their own team logo at Citi Field.
“New York City: This is not the end, but the beginning of something special,” the imposing 6-foot-6, 240-pound, 23-year-old Texan tweeted on Monday to the town he now calls home.
Of course, it was Syndergaard who was the only pitcher to win a game for the Mets in a series they probably should have won, but gave away to the Royals, who if not for a mere handful of untimely moments — that to their credit – they took advantage of — would have been on the reverse end of their 4-1 series win over New York.
The agonizing part of this year’s Fall Classic is that the Mets should be world champions right now, as it took the Royals making major league baseball history — by rallying from deficits three times in the eighth inning or later (including twice in the ninth inning and twice away from their friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium) — to deny the Mets that honor.
While New York and other teams this year wore postseason gear which read “Take October,” perhaps “Give October (and the first night in November) Away” would have been more fitting for the Mets when it came to the 2015 World Series.
However, while teams often have to take advantage of huge opportunities when they present themselves, and never know when the next chance to play for a championship may come along, the saving grace is that the Mets weren’t even supposed to have gone this far, this fast. And if Syndergaard is proved right, New York handing Games 1, 4 and 5 to Kansas City the way it did in 2015, might be viewed years from now as only the beginning of a long run of success, with several repeat trips to the World Series, and perhaps multiple world titles for the Mets.
Right now, just days after the Royals’ rally of a different kind, in which a sea of blue turned out on the day of a parade through downtown Kansas City, the sting of losing — especially when winning repeatedly slips through your hands – is still fresh.
But as they say, time heals all wounds.
On a local level, this offseason will have a sensation that Mets fans are rarely used to feeling. Even in years when the crosstown New York Yankees weren’t adding to their myriad of titles and World Series appearances, they were still capturing the New York City area’s attention as the Mets were often floundering in relative anonymity.
If what Syndergaard postulates to be true, that figures to change for some time to come, as an aging Yankees team on the decline seems to be moving in the opposite direction of what is expected to take place in Flushing over the next several years.
On the far more important level, the Mets, after a long wait, appear to be on the verge of remaining as annual championship contenders for a while.
Las Vegas is already a believer in the Mets, who were given 10-1 odds — tied with the Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals — behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (8-1), to win next year’s World Series.
And why not? Everything, just about, seems to be in place for the Mets, even with the Wilpons still owning the club and their Madoff-related spending limitations in place to a certain extent.
Ownership seems to be at least slightly more flexible than its past penny-pinching ways, and while New York will ultimately have to pay out expensive contracts to keep its great, young starting pitching staff intact, that group doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
With Zach Wheeler returning from injury and being added to an existing corps of Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, the Mets could likely have the best starting pitching staff in Major League Baseball next season. Next year, there should also be no innings limits to worry about with Harvey.
Although he failed during his first World Series, Jeurys Familia should remain one of the sport’s most reliable closers.
The bullpen could use some further tinkering by Sandy Alderson, but it could be passable as is.
Even if the talented Yoenis Cespedes and his prima donna attitude leave Queens for more money (as is expected) than the Mets might wisely be willing to spend on him, Juan Lagares showed down the stretch of 2015 and in the postseason that his bat is improving. He’ll never be the offensive threat, five-tool player or have the arm of Cespedes, but his defense is otherwise stellar and he might very well continue to improve his hitting enough to be a significant part of a championship-caliber team.
Unlike this past season, Michael Conforto will get a full year under his belt to further develop into the star most expect him to be. And Curtis Granderson showed with his clutch hitting and leaping home run save over the right field wall in Game 3 of the 2015 National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs that he still has plenty left.
Travis d’Arnaud can’t come close to throwing runners out at second base, but he could finally have an injury-free year to work that and the rest of his defense out, while continuing to trend in the right direction offensively.
The Mets could also have their captain, David Wright, back at third base for a full season (unlike most of 2015).
Another year for shortstops Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada, and first baseman Lucas Duda should improve them overall, and the Mets are expected to make Daniel Murphy a qualifying offer by the end of this week. Although Murphy — as we saw in the recently completed playoffs and World Series — can be incredibly streaky offensively and a major liability defensively, he’s more than a decent option at second base for the Mets. And if not, Alderson believes that spot could be filled through free agency, a trade or internally by the promotion of promising young talent Dilson Herrera.
If Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson stick around to bolster the bench and the spirits of an already very cohesive clubhouse, that could be the final ingredient needed for Mets fans to have every reason to say, “Ya Gotta Believe!” and actually mean it in a way they normally couldn’t before.
There’s also no worry over manager Terry Collins’ status being in doubt during the next two seasons, as the Mets retained the oldest manager in the majors (who will turn 67 in May) on Wednesday with a new, well-earned, two-year, $3 million deal.
Collins won’t need much help in keeping the Mets focused and hungry at the start of next season. If seeing the Royals pose for a championship photo on New York’s own field and logo isn’t enough motivation, the Mets will open the 2016 season in of all places, Kansas City, on April 4 and 6, when they might witness the Royals receiving the type of World Series rings that the Mets probably should have called their own.
For right now, it’s hard not to replay over and over, the few moments that turned the World Series upside down and wonder what might have been.
What if Cespedes hadn’t tried to simply nonchalantly backhand Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park homer, or if Familia hadn’t tried to quick pitch Alex Gordon and given up that tying dinger with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1? What if Murphy had just got his glove down like a little leaguer is taught, and if Tyler Clippard hadn’t walked two batters in a row in the eighth inning of Game 4, with a 3-2 lead? And what if Collins went with his gut over his heart and brought in Familia in the ninth inning, or more so, if Duda had just made a straight throw a major leaguer should make to d’Arnaud, to end Game 5?
Those haunting questions may never go away.
Yet for the first time in a very long time, there will be a much different outlook next spring than in the past — that the Mets not only hope to contend, but now expect it. And with their embarrassment of starting pitching riches, that sentiment is likely to stick around not only for next year, but as Syndergaard intimated with his tweet, for the next several years.
If the Mets can get back to the World Series, they’ll replicate what the 2014 and 2015 Royals did, when Kansas City became the 15th team to win it all one year after losing in the Fall Classic.
Right now, there are many more reasons than not to think that the Mets, who by going from a 52-50 record to a National League crown in a span of three months, will do just that. So while it hurts now for the orange and blue faithful, the pain of the 2015 World Series might eventually be the just the start of making Syndergaard look prophetic.
* * * * *