By Paul DiSclafani:
Syndergaard’s first pitch to Utley never made contact with him, but home plate umpire Adam Hamari tossed him immediately, causing manager Terry Collins to race out of the dugout immediately to find out why his Ace didn’t merit at least a warning. He didn’t get one either, joining Syndergaard in the clubhouse for the rest of the game.
“There was no warning”, a tense Collins said after the game which featured an animated and heated argument between Collins and the entire umpiring crew before he finally said the magic word and getting tossed himself. “He made an assumption, which he is certainly allowed to do, and I disagreed with it.”
Even Syndergaard was puzzled by the immediacy of the ejection. “I was still very confused at the time to why I had gotten tossed. It was a very quick trigger. I was just kind of dumbfounded. I’ve never been thrown out of a game before, so it was just kind of a whirlwind of emotions. It kind of rattled me a little bit, the reason I got thrown out. I was kind of at a loss for words.”
With one out in the top of the third, Utley stepped in to the batter’s box for his second at bat of the game. Utley had doubled in the ninth inning the previous night against Jeurys Familia to clear the bases and tie the game before Curtis Granderson saved the day with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.
Syndergaard had struck out Utley looking in the first inning and promptly turned into “Nuke” LaLoosh from Bull Durham, throwing the first pitch, a 99 mph heater, right behind Utley’s back and directly into the backstop, just missing Mr. Met (just kidding).
It had been seven months since Utley broke Reuben Tejada’s leg in Game 3 of the NLDS and this was already the fifth time the Mets and Dodgers have played. Utley spoke candidly about what to expect from the Mets prior to the season, considering their comments. So what took so long?
Syndergaard, whose opening pitch in Game 3 of the 2015 World Series sailed over the head of Alcides Escobar, energizing the Citi Field crowd and inspiring the Mets to their only win of the Series, insisted that the pitch just got away from him. “It just slipped from my hands. Tonight was a warm one out there,” he said. “I got a little sweaty. It just got away from me a little bit.”
Although it was no mystery that this was Syndergaard’s way of showing his teammates that he is now the undisputed Ace of the staff, how could he be ejected for not even hitting Utley, without at least a warning, considering the current state of the history between this player and this team?
Syndergaard was so taken aback by the ejection; he had his glove up waiting for the umpire to throw him another ball for the next pitch. He couldn’t even fathom an ejection at that point. “I think a warning might have sufficed before an ejection,” he said, although admitting he can see why he might be considered for ejection. “I understand why he did what he did, but I just think a warning would have been better.”
Even Utley was surprised by the ejection, but not at the pitch. He has been expecting retaliation ever since he broke Reuben Tejada’s leg in the NLDS and has become Public Enemy #1. “I wouldn’t say it surprised me,” Utley said. When asked if there was a chance that this wasn’t the end of the bad blood between the two teams and there might be more fireworks in the final game of the series, Utley repeated, “It wouldn’t surprise me.”
Collins said he did discuss retaliation against Utley with the Mets when they made the trip out to LA two weeks ago.
“We’re not going to say ‘don’t do anything’, but you gotta understand that we don’t need anybody hurt, we don’t need to be retaliated against and I don’t need anybody suspended for stuff.”
Was Syndergaard worried about being suspended? “No, not really,” he said, “I don’t think I should be facing a suspension for letting the ball get away from me.”
Although Utley has faced the Mets a number of times since “The Incident”, there has been no sign of retaliation, although the Citi Field crown had been seeking blood revenge on Friday night. And with the night belonging to the 30th Anniversary of the last Mets World Championship, a number of the 1986 Mets wondered, “What took them so long?”
World Series MVP Ray Knight, who is making his first Mets related appearance since that magical year, knew that his Mets would have never put up with what Utley did to Tejada.
“There would have been a big melee in the middle of the diamond. There’s no way I’m gonna allow somebody to do that that blatantly, that blatantly. A hard slide’s a hard slide, but that was one of those slides that should never have happened. I think you’d of seen — Wally would have reacted right there, and it may have been Wally they took out, if it was Raffy (Rafael Santana) that they took out. You play together and you eat together and you travel together and you fight together. So if you’ve got somebody that is endangered or somebody that’s getting treated wrong, you’re gonna stand up for him.”
Las Vegas AAA Met’s manager Wally Backman felt that any of the 86 Mets pitching staff would have taken care of Utley. But he knew for sure that Doc Gooden would have.
“I wouldn’t just say Doc, I’d have said all of ’em,” Backman said. “The one thing, everybody had each other’s back, no matter what the case was. I can remember Ozzie Smith coming in, taking me out at second base, and Doc saying, ‘You want me to get him for you?’ And I said, ‘No, that’s OK, just give me a double-play ball, I’ll try to get him myself.’ ”
And although Gooden offered and then acquiesced to his teammate’s request, he knew what he would have done. “Wally said, ‘Let it go,’ ” Gooden said. “I was ready to put one in the ribs.”