Noah Syndergaard opened eyes during Game 3 of last year's World Series with his purpose pitch to Royals leadoff hitter, Alcides Escobar, and with his bold comments after the game.
"That right there is why he's going to win the Cy Young one day," Michael Cuddyer told me after the game.
That's quite a prediction, especially from a 15-year veteran who is not prone to hyperbole.
A few weeks ago, with Syndergaard set to make his 2016 season debut against those same Royals, I followed up with Cuddyer.
What exactly was it about that one pitch that foretold so much, I asked him.
"The first pitch of that game was not meant to hit or hurt anyone," he explained. "He threw it exactly where he wanted. That is the little thing that separates him. Not only was he not scared of the moment, but he was able to execute a pitch, that he knew would be scrutinized, in a game of the highest magnitude with only a handful of big league starts under his belt."
It was Syndergaard's 27th big league start, and it spoke volumes. For what it's worth, last night's start (number 31) may have said even more. Syndergaard struck out nine Reds and walked no one. He departed the game after six and two-thirds innings in a position to earn the win. It's an outing 95 percent of major league starting pitchers would sign up for, without hesitation, on a nightly basis. Yet, Syndergaard wasn't satisfied...
"I definitely didn't feel very comfortable out on the mound with my delivery," he told us. "It's kind of frustrating, just one of those days. I've got to come back tomorrow, work on things and get ready for Sunday."
Terry Collins agreed, saying, "I didn't think he was as sharp command-wise as he has been lately."
Nine strikeouts. Zero walks. Three earned runs, which could have easily been two. He pitched into the seventh inning. "Frustrating." "Not as sharp." This is how high expectations have already become for Syndergaard -- and rightfully so. When he made his major league debut in May last year, Syndergaard had a powerful four-seam fastball, a curveball that his own manager deemed a "hook from hell," and a plus changeup. A few weeks later, he added a devastating sinker to his arsenal.
This off-season he perfected an overwhelming slider. All five pitches are thrown at eye-popping velocities. The speed of his pitches is what stands out to most people. His control is what makes his catcher giddy.
"He can throw any pitch, anywhere, in any count," Kevin Plawecki said.
Asked if there's another hurler in the league with that command of a five "plus-pitch" arsenal, Travis d'Arnaud simply answered, "No."
When questioned how a hitter can approach an at-bat against Syndergaard, both catchers gave the exact same answer: "You just have to go up there, guess and hope you're right."
This is why seven hits, three earned runs and a no-decision - even if it is accompanied by nine strikeouts and no walks - is considered by Syndergaard as an "off-night." The fact that he embraces it is what makes last night so important. For the great ones, good is never good enough.
It's too early to declare what Syndergaard will or won't become, because so much can happen between now and the end of his career. However, the more we see and hear from him, the more it's clear that he has the stuff, the temperament and the desire to reach incredibley rare heights. Will he? That is to be determined, but it's sure going to be fun to watch him try.