Kansas City, Mo. — The man-child on the mound was simply getting some work in, two simulated innings to keep sharp for the World Series.
It was late afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, dimmed by dark clouds on this overcast day in Kansas City, and even his Mets teammates wanted no part of 6-foot-6 Noah Syndergaard.
David Wright bounded into the batting cage, watched a few fastballs whizz by like pellets fired from a BB gun, and stepped right back out.
“How are you supposed to hit that?” he asked Michael Cuddyer.
A chuckling group of Mets marveled at Syndergaard’s sizzling cheese the day before the Series opener — but now they’ve placed the heat squarely on their rookie starter. With the National League champs trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven set, Syndergaard, 23, nicknamed Thor, pitches Friday night against Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura.
And the Mets know perfectly well they can’t afford to lose.
“It’s nice to have Noah going,” second baseman Daniel Murphy said after a 7-1 defeat in Game 2. “We’ll get back to New York and I know the guys will be excited.”
The first World Series game at Citi Field features two of the hardest throwers in baseball.
Syndergaard’s fastball averaged 97.1 mph during the regular season, the highest velocity of any major leaguer who pitched at least 150 innings, according to STATS.
Ventura, 24, ranked third at 96.3 mph.
In the National League playoffs, Syndergaard threw 22 pitches at least 100 mph and topped out at 101, according to STATS.
Ventura can touch the century mark, too.
But while Syndergaard certainly brings it, so do Mets aces Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. And despite their 95-98 mph fastballs, neither one was able to throttle a Royals lineup that’s mastered the lost art of consistently making solid contact.
“This team likes the fastball,” said American League Championship Series MVP Alcides Escobar, the aggressive leadoff man who is hitting .364 with 12 runs, eight RBIs and seven extra-base hits this postseason.
After making his debut in May, Syndergaard picked up a two-seamer that runs to his arm side and fine-tuned his changeup. He gained control of his sharp slider without losing the ability to bend in that slower curveball.
All those improvements helped the right-hander finish 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 150 innings. Then he went 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in three playoff games.
“He’s a very fast learner,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “He has no fear.”
Kansas City vs. New York
Royals lead 2-0
Best-of-7 (x-if necessary)
All games on Fox
Game 1: Kansas City 5-4
Game 2: Kansas City 7-1
Friday: Kansas City (Ventura 13-8) at New York (Syndergaard 9-7), 8:07 p.m.
Saturday: Kansas City (Young 11-6) at New York (Matz 4-0), 8:07 p.m.
x-Sunday: at New York, 8:15 p.m.
x-Tuesday: at Kansas City, 8:07 p.m.
x-Wednesday: at Kansas City, 8:07 p.m.