NEW YORK — After Game 2 on Wednesday night there was a TV reporter shoving his microphone in the faces of Mets players asking “is Game 3 a must-win?” It was pretty funny.
Partially because, as many Mets’ players said, this is a best-of-seven series so, technically, there are not “must-wins” until the other team has three. That’s just math. It was more broadly funny because the TV reporter didn’t seem to care about how Mets players answered it as much as he really, really wanted someone — anyone — to say “this is a must-win” because he or his producer had likely already created a spiffy little graphic to that effect and wanted video of someone saying it to slot into a predetermined package for a later newscast. This, by the way, is how a great, great deal of postgame interview questions go. There is something of an obvious formula to it all.
But . . . don’t the Mets kinda have to win this? At least practically speaking? We’ve spent two days repeating the stats about teams which go down 2-0 in the World Series, but if the Royals beat ’em again we’re gonna hear about what happens when a team is down 3-0 all Friday night and all day Saturday. Specifically, that no team has ever come back from that. At least in the World Series, and that the only team which has done it period is the 2004 Red Sox in the ALCS. If you want to get mathy about it, figure, at best, the Mets down 3-0 would have a 94% chance of losing this thing.
So, no, it’s not a must-win game tonight for the Mets because three wins does not a World Series make. And no matter what happens on the field this evening, the Mets will be back to play again tomorrow. But they really, really, really need to win it in order to prevent everyone from repeating that stuff about what happens to teams which are down 3-0.
The Game: Kansas City Royals vs. New York Mets
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern.
The Place: Citi Field
The Channel: Fox
The Starters: Yordano Ventura vs. Noah Syndergaard
The Upshot: It’s really hard to give a fresh upshot at this point because this series has been going pretty according to the script. Not the Mets losing part — a lot of people, this writer included, picked the Mets to win — but the “how the Royals can win it” part. They were lauded as a team that makes great contact and matches up well against fastball pitchers and they’ve been making great contact against the Mets great fastball pitchers. Concerns about the Mets included (a) the offense cooling off; and (b) possible fatigue after a longer-than-expected season for their young starters. What has happened? The offense has been cold and the starters, if not fatigued, have certainly not had their best stuff in Games 1 and 2.
So once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
For as tired as we may be of the narrative framing of this series, Noah Syndergaard’s fastball is something to behold, averaging 97.1 m.p.h., which is tops in the bigs among starters this year. But Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey have plus fastballs too and that didn’t faze the Royals. The key tonight will be Syndergaard’s secondary stuff. His slider and changeup but, more than anything else, that curveball of his. If, like deGrom and his slider, Syndergaard doesn’t have his best secondary stuff, the Royals will sit dead-red and pick him apart. If, on the other hand, the breaking and offspeed stuff is looking sharp early, we might actually get a ballgame here.
For the Royals it’s Yordano Ventura who, for all that can be said about Syndergaard, possessed the third-fastest fastball among starters this year. There’s a sense that he’s a guy who can be easily rattled so if he gets in trouble early expect the crowd to be on him like crazy, but Ventura knows from big games by now. The bigger question is whether he can give the Royals six innings in order to make the bullpen plan a bit more clear for old Ned Yost. He has yet to do that in the playoffs, going two innings in his first outing against the Astros and no more than five and a third in the other three. Of course the Royals have nonetheless won three of his four playoff starts, so Ventura doesn’t have to pull a Johnny Cueto in order for the Royals to win. Indeed, because of the day off and what Cueto did the other night, the Yost can look to get more out of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis than he usually does.
It’s not a must-win for the Mets tonight. Not technically, anyway. And if they lose tonight, it’s not completely dark yet. But it’ll be getting there.