Sure, Noah Syndergaard had pitched in relief. Back when he was a teenager, for the Lansing Lugnuts.
No matter that it’d been a while. The New York Mets needed their young ace.
So the bullpen gate swung open and Syndergaard trotted into the seventh inning of the Mets’ most important game in nearly a decade, an all-or-nothing playoff matchup at Dodger Stadium.
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”I was a little juiced up,” he said.
Evidently so. He hit 100 mph with his first pitch, helped his team reach the NL Championship Series and heated up an annual October debate: Is it wise to use starters in relief during the postseason?
Already this week, the AL’s only 20-game winner, a guy who tossed a no-hitter this year and a former Cy Young Award winner reversed roles in the playoffs.
Dallas Keuchel struggled and Mike Fiers did so-so for Houston. David Price wound up with a win for Toronto.
Having thrown 50 pitches at Texas in the AL Division Series on Monday – his first relief appearance since 2010 – Price is now set to start Game 2 of the ALCS at Kansas City.
”I don’t think I’m out of routine,” Price said Friday, before the series opener.
”Like I said before, the dimensions that I’m throwing are still 60 feet, 6 inches. That stuff doesn’t change. At this point in the season you know where home plate is. You have a good feel for what you’re trying to do out there,” he said.
Said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: ”He ended up getting in, pitching longer than most people thought he would.”
”But that was a little bit of strategy, too,” he said, without elaborating.
Of course, the ultimate save came last fall, right there at Kauffman Stadium.
San Francisco lefty Madison Bumgarner cemented himself as the World Series MVP by winning two starts, then pitching the final five innings to preserve a 3-2 lead in Game 7 against the Royals.
Others have smoothly made the switch, be it for one game or the entire postseason. Tim Lincecum, Orel Hershiser and David Cone are among the aces who’ve excelled over the years.
It’s not always an easy adjustment, especially for pitchers whose long seasons are predicated on routines. Fatigue can also be a factor.
Bartolo Colon, who tied for the team lead in wins, and Jonathon Niese moved from the Mets’ rotation to the `pen this month.
Syndergaard could start Game 2 of the Chicago Cubs-Mets series Sunday night at Citi Field, if he’s recovered in time.
”I’m certainly well aware that I got him up four times last night,” Mets manager Terry Collins said Friday. ”That could have almost been five innings of work because I knew he threw over 100 pitches warming up.”
Collins called on Syndergaard with the Mets leading Los Angeles by a run in the deciding Game 5 Thursday night in the NLDS. The 23-year-old righty, who last entered midgame in 2012 with Lansing in the Class-A Midwest League, worked a hitless seventh inning against the top of the Dodgers’ lineup.
”Throughout the game I was just trying to take little mental photographs of everything around me, just trying to soak in as much as I could,” he said.
Keuchel was cruising through these playoffs until Game 5 of the ALDS against the Royals. He entered in the eighth with the Astros trailing 4-2 and gave up a three-run homer to Kendrys Morales.
The bearded lefty went 20-8 in the regular season, shut down the Yankees in the AL wild-card game and beat Kansas City in Game 3. His first relief appearance since 2013 didn’t go quite so well.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said it was an easy call to summon Keuchel.
”Empty our tank with our best to try to give us a chance,” he said.