NEW YORK — By the time any pitcher reaches a press room microphone at the World Series, he has been well-schooled on the art of the euphemism, the non-answer, when it comes to throwing at a batter's personal space. From Roger Clemens to Clayton Kershaw, the explanations are almost like professional heirlooms, inherited by the next generation.
I was trying to get the ball inside.
The just ball got away from me.
But Noah Syndergaard, the New York Mets' 6-foot-6, 245-pound stoic, had no use for that tradition after Game 3 of the World Series, and he dropped the jaws of reporters with his explanation for his game-opening 98 mph fastball, which passed just a few baseball stitches from the chin of Kansas City Royals leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar.
Syndergaard offered no alibi; rather, he narrated the sequence of events. "My first words I said to Travis when we walked in the clubhouse today," said Syndergaard, referring to catcher Travis d'Arnaud, were, "How do you feel about high and tight for the first pitch and then a curveball for the second one?"
That particular sequence — a fastball high and inside to knock a hitter off a plate, followed by a breaking ball to the outside corner to take immediate advantage of the hitter's discomfort — is like a declaration of war for pitchers, because the intent is transparent to all on the field.
It's just that no one ever really talks about it. Except for Syndergaard.
"So I feel like it really made a statement to start the game off," Syndergaard said in his flat tone, "that you guys can't dig in and get too aggressive because I'll come in there."
But Syndergaard didn't stop there. By the time he took his turn in the interview room, a number of Royals players, from Escobar to Eric Hosmer to Mike Moustakas to Alex Rios, had detailed their anger about his purpose pitch to reporters. "Unprofessional," Rios said, among other words. "Just don't throw at my head," Escobar said. "A lot of guys were upset," Hosmer said, "because they don't like seeing a teammate have his head thrown at."
The Mets' man of few words, however, had the last word in the interview room. "I mean, I certainly wasn't trying to hit the guy, that's for sure," Syndergaard said. "I just didn't want him getting too comfortable. If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away. I've got no problem with that."
Suddenly, the World Series interview room had turned into a boxing promoter's dream, with the Mets' pitcher effectively announcing he would fight any Royal who wanted to make the 60-foot, six-inch trip to the mound.
He didn't stop there, either.