Noah Syndergaard believed he had already reached rock bottom.
The imposing Mets pitcher’s E.R.A. was a bloated 6.35 after the season’s first month, and his record was 1-3. He no longer trusted his breaking pitches, and when he stood on the mound, he could not grip the baseball. The ball, he said, felt “slick as can be.”
“Like holding an ice cube,” he said.
But on Thursday at Citi Field, Syndergaard caught fire with a historic all-around performance. In a matinee outing, he offered the 21,445 fans in attendance a one-man show that lasted just over two hours and put him in rarefied territory for major league pitchers.
In addition to striking out 10 batters in a complete-game shutout, Syndergaard rerouted a fastball 407 feet to left field for a solo home run in a 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. It was only the seventh time in major league history that a pitcher homered and threw a 1-0 shutout, and the first time it had been done by a Met. The last pitcher to accomplish the feat was Bob Welch of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1983.
“One of the rarest things in baseball,” Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said after the game.
For his final act, with the tying run at second and the go-ahead run at the plate, Syndergaard struck out Reds right fielder Yasiel Puig with a fastball that registered 99.5 miles per hour on the radar gun. Puig did not swing.
“He said enough is enough,” Callaway said of Syndergaard. “He knows that he had to be better than what he was.”
After Thursday’s victory, a Mets team that had seesawed its way through the first month to a 16-15 record felt like it was finally warming up. As the Mets departed for a trip that will take them to Milwaukee and then to San Diego, they were buoyed by strong back-to-back starts from Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, the team’s ace.
“We’re not satisfied at all with where we are at,” Callaway said. “We’ve got to feed off of what we’ve been doing as a pitching staff the last five days and get things rolling.”
For Syndergaard, who shaved his beard and wore his long hair down for the first time this season, the turn of the calendar from April to May doubled as a clean slate. He welcomed the game’s noon start and the 66-degree temperature beneath a bright sun at first pitch.
“It was a beautiful day,” said Syndergaard, who allowed four hits. “Summer’s starting to come around, or spring.”
Syndergaard also threw a complete-game shutout, striking out 10 and allowing four hits.CreditMike Stobe/Getty Images
Either way, Syndergaard looked to be a man for all seasons. While he has struggled on the mound, he continued to hit the ball hard. With one homer to his name already this season, Syndergaard led off the bottom of the third inning in the left-handed batter’s box. Reds starter Tyler Mahle, a righty, threw a 92-m.p.h. fastball, and Syndergaard drove it to the opposite field.
It was the sixth home run of Syndergaard’s career — putting him one short of Dwight Gooden’s franchise record for a pitcher of seven — and it was the Mets’ first run in 12 innings against Cincinnati and the Mets pitching staff’s fourth homer this year.
“You just don’t see it very often,” Callaway said. “Unless our pitchers are hitting.”
Syndergaard’s power display allowed the Mets’ beleaguered bullpen to rest, as well. In the Mets’ win on Tuesday, reliever Jeurys Familia blew a 3-1 lead when he was asked to record a six-out save and then reported that his shoulder was sore the next morning. The team put him on the injured list after giving him a cortisone injection, but General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen maintained that he had “no real long-term concern.”
Closer Edwin Diaz came up short the next night. Although deGrom and reliever Seth Lugo combined for eight scoreless innings, Diaz entered the game in the ninth, recorded two outs and then gave up the game’s only run, a homer by Jose Iglesias.
With Diaz and Familia unavailable, Callaway was counting on Syndergaard to chew up innings.
“The lack of relief was a relief today,” Callaway said. “We don’t know how we get through the rest of the game if he doesn’t complete it.”
The crowd gave its roar of approval for Syndergaard’s efforts both when he batted for himself in the bottom of the eighth and when he returned to the mound for the ninth. He collected two strikes on Reds left fielder Jesse Winker before Winker took exception to a called strike and began arguing with the home-plate umpire Marty Foster. Reds Manager David Bell sprinted from the dugout to intercede between Winker and Foster, but both Bell and Winker were ejected. Syndergaard finished off the pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer on a called third strike before getting Eugenio Suarez to fly out.
The Reds managed to push Syndergaard past the 100-pitch mark in the ninth inning: With two out, first baseman Derek Dietrich singled to right field, and pinch-runner Michael Lorenzen came on to steal second before Syndergaard struck out Puig on three pitches — brought his total for the afternoon to 104, 74 of which were strikes.
“It feels like a huge weight has been taken off my shoulder,” Syndergaard said.
Afterward, Syndergaard could not pinpoint one correction that had allowed him to pitch better. He did vow never to grow a beard again as he pulled on his black suede boots and fixed the straps.
Across the clubhouse, Pete Alonso, who had just learned that he had won rookie of the month honors for the National League, looked over at the veteran.
“He was a one-man wrecking crew out there today,” he said. “Really awesome outing for him. He absolutely demolished that ball out there.”