NEW YORK — The man-child on the mound was simply getting some work in, two simulated innings to sharpen up for the World Series.
It was late afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, dimmed by dark clouds on this overcast day in Kansas City, Mo., and even his Mets teammates wanted no part of 6-foot-6 Noah Syndergaard.
David Wright bounded into the batting cage, watched a few fastballs whizz by like pellets fired from a BB gun, and stepped right back out.
"How are you supposed to hit that?" he asked teammate Michael Cuddyer.
Tonight Syndergaard will not only throw heat, he'll face it.
With the National League champs trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven Fall Classic, the 23-year-old thunderbolt aptly nicknamed "Thor" pitches against Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura.
And the Mets know perfectly well they can't afford to lose.
"I feel like being able to watch the past two games has really helped me out and helped me devise a game plan," Syndergaard said.
His fastball averaged 97.1 mph this season, the highest of any major-leaguer who pitched at least 150 innings, according to STATS. Ventura, 24, ranked third at 96.3 mph.
But Mets aces Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom also throw hard — 95-98 mph — and neither could throttle a Royals lineup that has mastered the art of consistently making solid contact.
"This team likes the fastball," said AL Championship Series MVP Alcides Escobar, the first batter Syndergaard will face. Kansas City's aggressive leadoff man is batting .364 with 12 runs, eight RBIs and seven extra-base hits this postseason.
"It's something else being able to watch Escobar walk up there and swing at the first pitch almost every single game," Syndergaard said. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I'll be able to break out (tonight). I'm looking forward to it."
Despite all the attention his fastball draws, the rapid development of Syndergaard's secondary pitches has been the key to his immediate success.
"The amount of confidence that I've gained throughout this entire season and the journey has been an unbelievable experience for me," he said.
After making his big-league debut in May, Syndergaard picked up a two-seamer that runs to his arm side and fine-tuned his changeup. He gained control of his sharp slider without losing the ability to bend in his slower curve.
Veteran Cuddyer used the words maturity, transformation and evolution in describing Syndergaard's season, which he finished with a 9-7 record and 3.24 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 150 innings.
Then the right-hander from Mansfield, Texas, near Fort Worth went 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in three NL playoff games, including his first career relief appearance.
Ventura generates velocity with a whip of his slender frame, perhaps generously listed at 6 feet. Syndergaard, by contrast, is a 240-pound hammer who revels in his larger-than-life image.
With long, golden locks flowing out from beneath his baseball cap, 11 letters to that unusual last name arched around his shoulders on the back of a Mets jersey, Syndergaard resembles some sort of Viking pitcher sent from the ancient past.
Syndergaard was given the moniker Thor — the Norse god known for ferocious storms — after tweeting a photo of himself in costume doing squats on Halloween two years ago.
Before his NLCS start against the Cubs, Syndergaard changed the photo atop his Twitter page to a shot featuring lightning striking Chicago's famous Willis Tower. For the World Series, it's bolts descending on the Kansas City skyline.
"He's a unique guy," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "His name was mentioned to open up the World Series. That's how well we think he's pitching."