One inning and some thunder from Thor.
That's all it took for the New York Mets to stake a 2-0 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series with Sunday's 4-1 victory. Noah "Thor" Syndergaard baffled the powerful Chicago lineup with his high-octane fastball, and the Mets offense put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first inning behind Daniel Murphy's fifth postseason home run.
The initial outburst was all Syndergaard needed, as he allowed a single run and three hits in 5.2 innings of work. He also struck out nine hitters and made some history in the process, as Andrew Simon of MLB.com pointed out:
As for the Cubs, ace Jake Arrieta struggled to settle in before it was too late. Allowing four runs is one thing, but Ryan Krasnoo of Sports Illustrated noted the Cy Young Award candidate rarely ever gets touched up in the opening frame:
Syndergaard and Murphy (who finished with two of New York's five hits) were the stars, but the Mets bullpen did a masterful job in 3.1 innings of scoreless work. The Cubs managed a meager two hits against Jon Niese, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia, and one of them was an infield single.
Many anticipated a pitcher's duel in the matchup between Arrieta and Syndergaard, but the Mets blew the game open in the first inning. David Wright drove in Curtis Granderson with an RBI double, and Murphy drilled a two-run homer to right. Suddenly, it was 3-0 Mets before everyone in the crowd had even taken their seats.
Jon Tayler of Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report Insights put Murphy's fifth postseason long ball into historical perspective:
Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com acknowledged the home runs are even more impressive when the opposing pitchers are taken into account:
Cubs manager Joe Maddon had the perfect reaction to Murphy's dominance, per Anthony DiComo of MLB.com:
Citi Field was electric with a 3-0 advantage after a single frame, and Krasnoo highlighted the anomaly from Chicago's perspective:
Things got worse for the Cubs when Granderson robbed Chris Coghlan of a home run in the next inning. DiComo shared the incredible catch:
The Mets added another run in the third when Yoenis Cespedes notched an RBI infield single, and Matt Spiegel of 670 The Score in Chicago noticed an issue from Arrieta:
New York's early offensive onslaught stole the show, but Syndergaard's performance on the mound truly stood out. His fastball locked Chicago hitters up and kept the game out of reach for the North Siders. Wayne Randazzo of WOR News Talk Radio, citing David Schoenfield of ESPN, put the Cubs' struggles into statistical terms:
Syndergaard's counterpart, Arrieta, finished his day with four earned runs, four hits allowed, two walks and eight strikeouts in five innings of work. He settled down after the first inning, but it was too little, too late. Tayler noted it has been quite some time since the Chicago ace struggled so much in back-to-back starts:
The Cubs chased Syndergaard in the sixth when Kris Bryant tallied an RBI double to trim the lead to 4-1, but Niese ended the rally with a strikeout of Anthony Rizzo. Reed kept the momentum rolling for the Mets bullpen with a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh, and Clippard retired the side without allowing a run in the eighth.
While the game felt out of reach for Chicago given the strong effort for the New York pitchers, Sports Illustrated MLB noted Arrieta and Travis Wood at least kept the offense within striking distance with solid efforts in the middle innings:
Despite a strong outing from the Chicago bullpen, the offense never had much of a chance against closer Familia in the ninth, even though Rizzo notched an infield single by simply beating Lucas Duda to the bag on a ground ball. Familia tallied the save, and the Mets seized control of the series with the 4-1 victory.
The NLCS shifts back to the Windy City for Game 3 on Tuesday, and it is essentially a must-win for the Cubs. There is little chance they would come back from a 3-0 deficit against the deep New York pitching staff, and Games 6 and 7 would be back in Citi Field.
The Cubs will at least have home-field advantage after two losses in New York, but the Mets boast the pitching edge on paper for the next contest. Jacob deGrom is a legitimate ace who posted a 2.54 ERA and sparkling 0.979 WHIP this season. What's more, two of three Mets victories over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the divisional series came in games deGrom started.
As for the Cubs, Kyle Hendricks will toe the rubber. He finished with a solid 3.95 ERA this season, but he struggled with three earned runs in 4.2 innings in his one appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional series. He will have to turn in a much better effort against deGrom to keep Chicago within striking distance.
Otherwise, the Mets will be a single victory away from the World Series.
Despite his impressive performance in the victory, Syndergaard was quick to deflect praise to the offense following the game.
He said, "It makes it a lot easier when the offense puts a three spot on one of the best pitchers in this game," per the team, while discussing New York’s first-inning onslaught. Murphy was a major part of that first inning, and Wright said, per the team, he “has never seen anyone as locked in as Murphy.”
What made the early offense more impressive was the fact it came off the Cy Young candidate, Arrieta. Wright suggested his team was not intimidated by the matchup, per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: "We've beaten some of the best (pitchers) this game has to offer."
Attention now turns to Game 3, and the Mets can likely taste a potential World Series appearance. Clippard discussed his team’s mindset, per DiComo: "We're feeling good, man. We're feeling really good. We're playing the way we want to play."
As for the Cubs, the belief was still in place despite two defeats in New York. Rizzo was optimistic, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago: “You can’t let two games beat us up, especially with the way we’re capable of playing.”
Kyle Schwarber reiterated that mindset, per Mooney: “We’ve had success throughout this whole year because we stayed ourselves. Why go away from (that) just because we lost 2 games?"
Maddon recognized the turning point in Sunday’s loss and was already looking ahead to the Game 3 showdown in Wrigley Field, per CBS Chicago: “The ambush early got us. That was the game right there…we’re all about one-game winning streaks. Our guys are fine.”
The Cubs need their first one-game winning streak of this series Tuesday if they hope to keep any realistic dreams of a World Series appearance alive.