CRUSH­ING IT

The Mets’ su­per­hero starter, Noah Syn­der­gaard, has a 100 mph fast­ball, un­flap­pable fo­cus, and a cameo in sea­son seven of Game of Thrones. Meet the guy who is giv­ing ma­jor-league bat­ters plenty to worry about in 2017.

Gotham - - Style - By MICHAEL VENTRE

In Norse mythol­ogy, Thor is some­thing of a god among gods. Dude car­ries a ham­mer, and he doesn’t do it to pick up ex­tra work as a handy­man. It al­ways seems to be thun­der­ing and light­ning around him. He’s ex­tra tall, ex­tra strong, and hand­some. He has flow­ing blond hair, so he isn’t con­fused with lesser-coiffed idols. And he is feared. When­ever he’s in­tro­duced, the ep­i­thet “The Mighty” pre­cedes his name.

In mod­ern-day sto­ry­telling, the Thor leg­end lives on. Only this time, when he drops the ham­mer on his op­po­nents, it takes the form of a fast­ball, slider, and changeup. Check the boxes next to tall, strong, hand­some, blond, but nix the stormy weather: He does his best work on hot sum­mer days.

This Thor is Noah Syn­der­gaard, ace of the New York Mets’ pitch­ing staff. He got the Thor nick­name around 2012 and it has not only stuck, it has spread far and wide through­out the land. It’s pop­u­lar enough that the Mets will give out a Syn­der­gaard Thor bob­ble­head doll this sea­son, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Mar­vel Comics. On Satur­day, July 22, the first 15,000 fans at­tend­ing the Mets-oak­land A’s game at Citi Field will get a lit­tle Thor of their own.

“It’s a re­ally cool thing,” Syn­der­gaard says. “It’s the first time Mar­vel and MLB part­nered up to do some­thing like that. I’m re­ally ex­cited. The bob­ble­head looks awe­some. They re­ally got the hair down. I’m re­ally happy about that. I think the fans will en­joy it, as well.”

Like Thor, the Mets in gen­eral are feared. A start­ing ro­ta­tion of Syn­der­gaard, Ja­cob degrom, Matt Har­vey, and Steven Matz, with a qual­ity fifth starter avail­able among can­di­dates Robert Gsell­man, Zack Wheeler, and Seth Lugo, makes the Mets pow­er­ful con­tenders to the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als for supremacy in the Na­tional League East.

And Syn­der­gaard—des­ig­nated as the Mets’ 2017 Open­ing Day starter—fig­ures to be even sharper than he was in 2016, when the 6-foot-6 right-han­der fin­ished with a 14-9 record and 2.60 ERA, af­ter hav­ing tin­kered with his de­liv­ery in the off­sea­son, and af­ter adding a changeup to go with his wicked 100 mph fast­ball and dev­as­tat­ing slider.

“I made some me­chan­i­cal ad­just­ments in be­tween my side work, and things are just re­ally start­ing to click for me right now,” he says.

With the flaxen locks and rugged good looks, the Thor nick­name was a nat­u­ral fit. The na­tive of Mans­field, Texas, who turns 25 on Au­gust 29, first re­ceived it while still a rel­a­tively short-haired mi­nor lea­guer with the Toronto Blue Jays’ or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2012. The leg­end grew more in­tense af­ter he was traded to the Mets on De­cem­ber 17, 2012, and he let his blond flag un­furl even fur­ther.

“Some­one on Twit­ter first men­tioned it be­cause Thor is set in the fic­tional land of As­gard, and my last name ends in ‘gaard,’” he ex­plains of the Mar­vel Comics realm where Thor op­er­ates. “That per­son just put it to­gether, and it took off. I don’t think you can re­sist a nick­name like that.”

When you’re Noah Syn­der­gaard, other doors tend to open. Case in point: His agent at CAA hap­pened to men­tion to the pro­duc­ers of Game of Thrones that Syn­der­gaard is a huge fan and names some of his gloves af­ter GOT char­ac­ters. (He has a Tyrion and a Jon Snow.) And, as any Mets fan knows, the warmup song that plays over the sta­dium PA sys­tem while he steps to the mound is the Game of Thrones theme.

“They thought it was cool, so they in­vited me to make a guest ap­pear­ance on an up­com­ing episode,” Syn­der­gaard says. “It’s not a speak­ing part. I’m a Lan­nis­ter gen­eral.” Amid the quasi-me­dieval rab­ble of the hit HBO se­ries, the grimy peas­ants, the vi­o­lent mega­lo­ma­ni­acs, the en­chant­ing dream­ers, a dragon or three, the al­chemists and sor­cer­esses, and many un­for­tu­nate an­i­mals, there is usu­ally a blond guy or two hov­er­ing around the perime­ter, look­ing stoic—that’s a Lan­nis­ter.

The show is shot in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions. This gig took Syn­der­gaard to Spain. “The base­ball fol­low­ing there is slim and none,” he says. “It was a real priv­i­lege for me to go over there and be a part of that.”

But none of these celebrity perquisites would be pos­si­ble if the man didn’t have a knack for slaying foes in much the same way Jaime Lan­nis­ter does: with one badass arm. He en­ters his third Ma­jor League sea­son in 2017. He went 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA in 2015. That year the Mets beat both the Dodgers and Cubs in the post­sea­son be­fore los­ing in the World Se­ries to the Kansas City Roy­als, 4-1; it was the Mets’ first ap­pear­ance in the Fall Clas­sic since they lost to the Yan­kees in 2000.

The 2015 run was when the base­ball world re­ally got a se­ri­ous look at the fu­ture of the Mets and their young pitch­ing staff, which in­cluded a locked-in Syn­der­gaard, who was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 26 strike­outs in those play­offs.

Last sea­son, in which the Mets were stymied by in­juries, the team bowed out of the post­sea­son by los­ing in a Na­tional League Wild Card game. Syn­der­gaard got the start­ing nod in that con­test and pitched bril­liantly through five and two-thirds in­nings be­fore even­tu­ally fall­ing short against the Giants and their ace Madi­son Bum­gar­ner, 3-0.

With Syn­der­gaard at the top of the Mets’ ro­ta­tion, though, the prospects for 2017 look plenty bright. “We’re re­ally fo­cused on be­ing health­ier and stronger this year,” he says. “You can see it al­ready in our pitch­ing staff and in our po­si­tion play­ers. All five of us [start­ing pitch­ers] are healthy. It’s fun to be part of this ro­ta­tion and to be a part of this team. We’re re­ally a tight-knit brother­hood. We’re al­ways push­ing one an­other, help­ing one an­other, and ul­ti­mately be­com­ing bet­ter as a pitch­ing staff.

“All five of us have our lock­ers right next to each other,” Syn­der­gaard adds. “We’re con­stantly jok­ing around, hav­ing fun, rough-hous­ing. We all grew mus­taches to­gether, just for the hell of it.”

When he’s not play­ing hard­ball, Syn­der­gaard likes to en­joy New York City. Mans­field, Texas, is a town of about 63,000 or so in the Dal­las-fort Worth area, but he says he did not have much trou­ble ad­just­ing to the Big Ap­ple.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing all the bright lights and the sky­scrapers when I first came here for the Fu­tures Game,” he says of the an­nual MLB ex­hi­bi­tion event for young play­ers. “I was mes­mer­ized by them. Now be­ing here is 100 per­cent a bless­ing. I love pitch­ing in this city. I love pitch­ing in Citi Field, in front of the best fans in base­ball.”

He has an apart­ment in Man­hat­tan, and on off days he’ll ride his bi­cy­cle through Cen­tral Park, take in a com­edy club, and gen­er­ally en­joy all that the city has to of­fer. He’s op­er­at­ing a Noah Syn­der­gaard Base­ball Pro­camp for kids on Au­gust 7 in Union, New Jersey. Dur­ing the off­sea­son, he likes to go home to the Dal­las area, and he and his dad, Brad, go off shoot­ing. “I also love golf, even though I’m not very good at it,” Syn­der­gaard ex­plains. “I’m still pick­ing it up.” You can also find him twisted up in yoga and Pi­lates po­si­tions dur­ing the win­ter.

He is also in­volved in a cause. His mother, Heidi, suf­fers from an au­toim­mune dis­ease known as Sjö­gren’s syn­drome, which causes dry eyes and mouth. Since her di­ag­no­sis, in 2012, Syn­der­gaard has helped raise money to fight the dis­ease, in­clud­ing the auc­tion­ing off of some of his gloves. “She’s a fighter, and she’s been do­ing well for the last three years or so,” he says.

Syn­der­gaard has a re­laxed, ap­proach­able so­cial me­dia pres­ence, and his 500,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers like to re­mind him of his re­sem­blances, in­clud­ing one to Thor’s movie star avatar, Chris Hemsworth. A re­cent Syn­der­gaard tweet showed an il­lus­tra­tion of the Thor bob­ble­head with Noah’s com­ment: “I bet­ter not give up a run all year with this bad boy in the works.” And yet an­other with the an­nounce­ment that the sev­enth sea­son of Game of Thrones pre­mieres July 16: “Try­ing to hold my %#@& to­gether right now. (Sin­gle tear … lips quiv­er­ing).” In Fe­bru­ary, he even tweeted good-bye to Adam Ru­bin, a long­time Mets beat re­porter who was leav­ing the busi­ness: “In all se­ri­ous­ness, best of luck to you Adam!” In the cold world of pro­fes­sional sports, that hap­pens about as of­ten as a dragon sight­ing. But that’s all part of be­ing Noah Syn­der­gaard; even in his own pri­vate ver­sion of As­gard, this Thor is in com­mand.

“I LOVE PITCH­ING IN THIS CITY. I LOVE PITCH­ING IN CITI FIELD, IN FRONT OF THE BEST FANS IN BASE­BALL.” —noah syn­der­gaard

Syn­der­gaard is a com­mand­ing pres­ence on the field at spring train­ing. OƩƩOƬƢTE: Pitch­ing a home game.

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