NEW YORK - Minutes before the first pitch Thursday night, the enormous Citi Field video board showed Noah Syndergaard in the Mets dugout. He pulled a hooded sweatshirt over his head to reveal his No. 34. He adjusted his flowing blond hair under his hat. The fans began to cheer.
Eleven of his first 14 pitches zipped at 98 mph or faster. Syndergaard struck out the first three Phillies hitters. One of the game's most dominant pitchers fired triple-digit fastballs on the corners against a sluggish lineup.
That is why a 6-4 Phillies win could qualify as their best, less than three weeks into the season. Tommy Joseph cracked a double on a 100-mph heater. Maikel Franco ripped a 99-mph fastball to end his hitless streak.
The Phillies capitalized on New York's blunders. They did not render Syndergaard human - he still whiffed 10 and walked none in seven impressive innings - but they forced him to work.
"It's a good confidence boost," Joseph said.
The Phillies won even when Aaron Nola lasted just five innings. Joely Rodriguez emerged to throw perhaps the team's two best innings of relief all season. He retired all six Mets he faced on 17 pitches, with three strikeouts.
They won with a new closer, too. Hector Neris notched the save with a perfect ninth. Joaquin Benoit, who had two chances as closer, returned to a setup role. Is this a closer-by-committee situation?
"I don't want to name it anything," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "You hear it a lot these days, about how pitchers are being used differently with different teams. I just look at it like this: It's nice to have two guys I trust in the eighth and the ninth. I trust both of those guys. I just seized the opportunity to try it tonight."
These two teams looked so unequal a week ago at Citizens Bank Park. But late Thursday night, the Phillies bused home with a series win in Queens. It was their first series victory over the Mets in more than a calendar year.
Without their two regular corner outfielders, the bottom of the Phillies lineup dented Syndergaard in the second inning. Aaron Altherr, a late addition to the lineup because Michael Saunders felt sick, singled on a 99-mph fastball. He stole second. He scampered home when Joseph shot a double down the right-field line.
Freddy Galvis put a 100-mph fastball in play, and a routine grounder created chaos when Jay Bruce flipped it to no one at first base. Andrew Knapp, the backup catcher, slashed a first-pitch, 91-mph change-up to left for a double that plated another run.
The Phillies, an inning after appearing helpless, had gained a three-run lead.
Syndergaard used 114 pitches in seven innings. The Phillies, before Thursday, led the majors with an average of 4.06 pitches per plate appearance this season. They were 27th last season, at 3.81 pitches per plate appearance. The patience has not yet translated to a proficient offense. But on Thursday, it challenged Syndergaard.
"That, in itself, is a tough chore," Mackanin said. "We made him work. We scored early on him. It was great to see. He's a bulldog. He was still throwing 98 in the seventh inning. We just took advantage of some mistakes he made. I give the guys a lot of credit for battling him and not being intimidated."
Joseph, whose slump rivaled Franco's, raised his batting average by 49 points with three hits. Franco doubled, homered, and walked. He was 0 for his previous 22 before the scorched double, which sailed over Yoenis Cespedes' head in the third inning to score the Phillies' fourth run.
Conclusions are not wise after 14 baseball games, and definitely not after one impressive inning from a pitcher. The Phillies, for 3 hours and 14 minutes, proved just that.