Noah Syndergaard’s first pitch riles up the Royals

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NEW YORK — We had a perfectly good World Series Game on Friday night. One which featured the Mets’ bats coming to life and the Royals’ bullpen and defense coming undone. All of which are things that happen in any given baseball game. Unfortunately, we also had a good bit of nonsense that will likely steal the headlines in the morning.

In the first inning, on the very first pitch of the game, Mets starter Noah Syndergaard sailed a fastball up over his catcher’s head and back to the backstop. It was quite intentional. Syndergaard intimated to reporters before the game that he may do something special early — he mentioned “tricks up his sleeve” to combat Alcides Escobar‘s habit of jumping on first pitch fastballs — and, if there was any doubt about that being the special thing he planned, he put those doubts to rest with his postgame comments about it:

Q. You were asked about Escobar and how he’d swing at anything, you said you’d have a few tricks up your sleeve. Is that first pitch a little bit of a statement or how do you explain what happened there?

SYNDERGAARD: Yeah, I mean my first words I said to Travis [d’Arnaud] when we walked in the clubhouse today is, ‘How do you feel about high and tight for the first pitch and then a curveball for the second one?’ So I feel like it really made a statement to start the game off, that you guys can’t dig in and get too aggressive because I’ll come in there.

“In there” is a relative term, of course. It didn’t come too far inside. It tailed in towards Escobar, but it was really just a super high pitch that didn’t actually enter the batters box:

[mlbvideo id=”526920883″ width=”600″ height=”336″ /]

The pitch nonetheless angered the Royals a good deal — read Mike Moustakas‘ lips in that video clip — and, after the game, several of them told reporters that they didn’t care for the pitch. Escobar called it “stupid.” Moustakas, claiming to speak for the entire Royals team, said “25 guys” thought there was an intent on Syndergaard’s part to throw at Escobar’s head. Syndergaard’s response:

I mean, I certainly wasn’t trying to hit the guy, that’s for sure. 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.

I guess he wants the Royals to fight him or something, which is a strange thing to want. Either way, in the wake of those comments there were a lot of folks and reporters trying to make hay out if it all. Saying that Syndergaard “sent a message” or “set the tone.”

Which is total retrospective bunk.

Syndergaard’s pitch may have angered the Royals, but it did nothing to set a tone or even change anything in the game. If it did, the Royals would not have taken a 1-0 lead that inning. And they would not have come back to take a 3-2 lead after two innings. And Escobar would not have come right back in the second inning and knocked a single off of Syndergaard. And, perhaps, at some point in the game someone would’ve thrown at a Mets hitter in retaliation. Maybe even Noah Syndergaard who batted twice in the game and never saw an inside pitch.

All of which is to say that, sure, the pitch was interesting and after a dispiriting loss the Royals beefed about it, probably because it was an easy thing to beef about. It also, fortuitously, gave the Royals an excuse to talk about coming together as a team in response to it despite the fact that they looked like a mess during the game. Never underestimate the propensity for athletes to adopt an “us against the world” attitude whether the world is against them or not.

It did little if anything, however, to throw the Royals off their game. Their own pitchers did that for them. It likewise did nothing to make Syndergaard any more formidable in the game. He was good. Not great. Not intimidating. He was good and gave the Mets a chance to win the game and they took him up on it.

All of which should be good enough. But apparently we’re going to be talking about this pitch on Saturday leading up to and during the game. And we may see Chris Young throw at a Mets hitter despite the fact that his stuff isn’t all that scary and that he would not do himself any favors by putting any extra Mets hitters on base. All of this from a pitch which even a bleedin’ heart pacifist like me who is adamantly opposed to pitchers throwing at hitters doesn’t really think was that big a deal.

But hey, if it gives people who can’t enjoy baseball without dramatic narratives grafted on top of the actual games something to talk about more people are happy, right?

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.