Better than Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia and Early Wynn of the Indians. Better than Allie Reynolds, Whitey Ford and Vic Raschi of the Yankees. Better than Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres of the Dodgers. These four are going to be the best there ever was."
That was Met Pitching Coach Rube Walker talking about Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan. And that was early Saturday evening, when all that his Big Four had done so far was turn in one 19-strike-out game (Seaver), two 15-strikeout games (Seaver and Ryan), three one-hitters (Seaver, Ryan and Gentry), a two-hitter (Ryan) and two three-hitters (Seaver and Ryan).
No sooner had Walker predicted his charges' immortality than Koosman, who had been the least successful of the four this year, commenced beating the Phillies with a four-hit shutout—which meant, since two of the aforementioned one-hit gems had been fashioned in the Mets' last two outings, that in three consecutive games Gentry, Seaver and Koosman had given up a total of six hits and no runs. For the season the four phenoms lumped together were averaging eight strikeouts and six hits per nine-inning game, and their combined ERA (2.29) was better than that of all but three individual non-Met starters in the National League. It appeared that the Mets had come up with what they have been slowly putting together for two or three years: the best front-line pitching staff in the world—and maybe ever.
Ryan, who had finger-blister problems last year and whom the Mets have been 10th to push too fast, seems close to establishing himself as a reliable starter as well as the hardest thrower around, and Gentry, with 17 pounds added to his frame since '69, has come into his own. His one-hitter last week was a no-hitter until an off-the-glove single to left in the eighth, and the nearest umpire informed leftfielder Dave Marshall that he could have shoestringed the spoiler had he held his glove differently.
Leftfielder who? Leftfielder Dave Marshall. Cleon Jones was on the bench with a bad case of sub-.200 hitting and no home runs. And here we go again with the old story of good-pitch, no-hit Mets. So far Jones and Tommie Agee, the only Mets over .300 this time last year, have hit weakly, and as a team the Mets are 10th in batting.
Then again, they finished the week in a virtual tie for first place in the East and were two games over .500. This time last year they were still third, still trying to get over .500 and still two weeks away from their big no-return surge past the break-even point. Jones, back in the lineup Saturday, went 2 for 5 in support of Koosman's shutout. There's plenty of time yet.