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Beast of Burden

How good is Noah Syndergaard [1]? They’ve got ways old-fangled and newfangled for measuring that — such as an 0.69 ERA in his first 13 innings and a FIP of 0.53 to indicate that ERA should be even more microscopic. Here’s a less-quantitative but thoroughly heartfelt measure: when things go wrong, Syndergaard’s the guy we’re sure will make everything better.

The big blond beast, as dubbed by Rene Rivera [2], was certainly in beast mode Sunday night against the Marlins, striking out nine and allowed two runs over seven innings. Only one of those runs should have scored, as the other came courtesy of miscommunication between Yoenis Cespedes [3] and Michael Conforto [4]. (Once again: it’s the outfield defense that will kill us [5].) At least on this night the Mets’ defense gaveth as well as takething away (that literary flight of fancy crashed and burned so spectacularly that I’m just going to leave it in) with Rivera throwing out a pair of overly frisky Marlins to avert further harm [6].

Syndergaard was amazing in the ways we’ve come to take for granted, mixing that ungodly fastball with the somehow more-ungodly slider and flashing the pretty deadly curve and change-up to keep the Marlins on their knees in helpless supplication for most of the game. Go back and review Marcell Ozuna [7]‘s second-inning at-bat to see an amazing bit of baseball cruelty: Noah gets him zeroed in on the fastball, tosses him an unhittable slider to make him doubt everything and then coldly dispatches him with a change-up.

But the later innings were even more impressive for being less flashy. With his pitch count rising, Syndergaard made a subtle alteration and started pitching to contact — a nervy thing considering his defensive complement was basically himself, Rivera and seven guys running around with paper bags over their heads. That got him through seven, giving the Mets time to add a Jay Bruce [8] home run and an absolute bomb from Conforto and then to turn things over to Fernando Salas [9] and Addison Reed [10].

Salas arrived late last year as blessed relief and has provided the same this year, though that may soon prove too much of a good thing: he’s become this year’s Jim Henderson [11], the reliever Terry Collins [12] seems hell-bent on breaking by Memorial Day. Today he’s Terry’s shiny new toy; tomorrow he’ll be a non-roster invitee with a arm full of broken bits and a “no comment” when asked about his former manager.

Speaking of broken parts … I don’t normally complain about national broadcasts, because what’s the point? But the ESPN crew of Karl RavechChris Myers, Dallas Braden [13] and Eduardo Perez [14] gave us one of the worst broadcasts I’ve seen in years. To steal a line from one Twitter wag, they should have let Mr. Met stay to call the rest of the game.

Ravech was bland but tolerable, and Braden and Perez occasionally reminded you that they know stuff — Braden, for example, was good in one segment where he broke down the movement on Syndergaard’s pitches and explained how it made him different from a mere mortal. But the two color guys were constantly stepping on each other, and Ravech was half-hearted about pulling baseball expertise out of them. Most of the time he let them run wild with unfunny shtick. Braden in particular desperately needs a producer to rein him in — pronouncing “hashtag” is bad enough before smashing that non-joke to a pulp for a solid minute. The whole broadcast had a distracted, desperate air about it: Bruce’s home run unfolded in split-screen because the crew was trying to conjure yuks (cue Braden yammering that they’re now lulz) out of Cespedes removing various pieces of armor.

This is an unwelcome baseball trend — national broadcasts that seem to have been put together by committees of people who don’t like baseball and think they need to spend three hours showing other stuff. To bring up ESPN’s varsity announcing team, I like Jessica Mendoza as an analyst but would gladly strangle whoever decided to cut away from actual baseball to show her interviewing a player. Still, Mendoza’s in-game chats are a bad idea but at least they’re competently executed; last night showed you what it’s like to endure bad ideas incompetently executed.

This is ESPN’s business — someone there has to know that Braden and Perez aren’t ready to do this job at this level. In the meantime, well, next time I’m stuck with Aaron Boone [15] I’ll hold my tongue.