Date with MadBum next step in Noah Syndergaard's rise

NEW YORK -- Nineteen months ago, before his rookie season, Noah Syndergaard had his lunch tossed into the garbage by New York Mets veterans David Wright and Bobby Parnell because he decided to chow down during a spring-training game rather than be present in the dugout.

Now Syndergaard is the most feared member of the team's depleted rotation. And he is battle-tested as he prepares to oppose San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in Wednesday's National League wild-card game at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Syndergaard, 24, had a 14-9 record and 2.60 ERA in his second season. His ERA ranked third in the majors, ahead of Bumgarner, who ranked fourth at 2.74.

Syndergaard's fastball averaged 97.9 mph this season. That led all MLB pitchers, comfortably ahead of runner-up Yovani Gallardo's 96.0 mph with the Baltimore Orioles.

"I'll put him up against anybody in baseball, and that includes Madison Bumgarner," Wright said Tuesday about Syndergaard. "That's probably one of the biggest compliments you can give a pitcher that's facing Madison in the postseason -- that I like our guy as well. He certainly has matured. He's got a World Series game under his belt. He's had success in the playoffs -- maybe not to the extent that Madison Bumgarner has. But I know all the guys in that clubhouse certainly feel confident with him out there."

Syndergaard was the obvious choice to start for the Mets, if for no other reason than Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (ulnar nerve) and Steven Matz (bone spur) all have undergone season-ending surgeries. Because the Mets were able to clinch on Saturday in Philadelphia, they were able to preserve Syndergaard for the wild-card assignment rather than burn him on the final day of the regular season.

Manager Terry Collins simply had to point to last year's postseason for the clearest reason why Syndergaard is ready for this moment. With the Mets having lost the first two games of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium, the series shifted to New York, where Syndergaard earned the Mets' lone win. He scored points with his teammates by throwing the game's first pitch to the backstop to send a message to the Kansas City Royals about not being too comfortable in the batter's box. Collins also raved about Syndergaard entering Game 5 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium in relief and logging a scoreless seventh inning that included strikeouts of Corey Seager and Justin Turner.

"Noah Syndergaard believes in Noah Syndergaard. Make no mistake about it," manager Terry Collins said. "And you can call it whatever you want. Great pitchers have egos. The great players have big egos. When they go out there, they think they're better than you. And a lot of nights they are, because they're talented.

"He's certainly made himself the No. 1 guy right now. And our staff, with all the injuries we've had, he's got to be the guy you want to give the ball to."

Syndergaard has faced the Giants twice this season, including a May 1 matchup with Bumgarner at Citi Field that the Giants won 6-1. Syndergaard allowed four runs in 5⅔ innings and surrendered a two-run homer to Hunter Pence in that game, and Bumgarner tossed six scoreless innings. Syndergaard rebounded to toss eight scoreless innings in a 2-0 win against the Giants on Aug. 21 in San Francisco. Earlier in that series, Bumgarner allowed four runs, all on a grand slam by now-sidelined Justin Ruggiano, in five innings in a no-decision.

"It's two Goliaths going at it, two big guys, and that makes for some good drama, some good excitement," Pence said. "The fun of baseball is going out there and competing against the best."

Syndergaard's primary vulnerability has been stolen bases. He allowed 48 steals in 57 attempts this season. The 48 steals are the most a pitcher has allowed in the majors since Hideo Nomo allowed 52 with the Boston Red Sox in 2001.

Syndergaard might get a slight reprieve. Eduardo Nunez, who had a combined 40 steals with the Minnesota Twins and Giants during the regular season, has been slowed by a hamstring strain that has sidelined him since Sept. 25. The only other Giants with double-digit stolen bases totals this season are ex-Met Angel Pagan (15) and Denard Span (12).

"As of now I feel pretty confident," Syndergaard said. "I feel like I've done my job over the last two or three months, kind of improving holding runners on. I've just got to go out there and stay nice and loose and relaxed and try not to get too tense out there when runners get on."

Confidence has never been an issue for Syndergaard. Back in spring training in 2015, Wright did not dump Syndergaard's lunch in the trash out of malice. Sensing Syndergaard's immense talent, the captain merely wanted to get him to mature.

Now Wright is among the biggest fans of Syndergaard as he pitches the winner-take-all game opposite Bumgarner.

Said Wright: "He deserves it."