Well, Cub fans, it sure was a grand weekend out there at the Big Shea, as the New Yorkers like to call it. We really did it to the Mets and the world's greatest pitching staff, or whatever it was that Rube Walker called it. Billy says he's still tired from running the bases, Ron nearly split a gut not doing his victory dance at third and guess what? Leo smiled. Yeah, he smiled, the first one since last September.
In case you missed it, we went into New York with a half game lead and everyone still talking about the one-hitter Gary Gentry threw against us in Chicago, followed by the one-hitter Tom Seaver laid on the Phillies and the four-hit shutout Jerry Koosman came back with the day after that. Oh, the New York papers had fun with that, kidding Koosman about giving up so many hits and not being able to throw a one-hitter like Gentry, Seaver and Nolan Ryan. It was along in here that Walker, he's the Met pitching coach, opens his mouth about Seaver, Koosman, Gentry and Ryan. Poor us. We have to go in there, and all we have is Kenny, Fergie, Handsie and Joe. Joe Decker. New kid.
Game one, Friday night, 50,000 Met fans want our blood. What they didn't get from last year. They start Koosman, No. 2 man, and he doesn't get out of the second inning, partly because he pulls a muscle in his left forearm and partly because we nail him for four runs. Jim Hickman hits one out to Long Island somewhere and we win 6-4.
And we're just warming up. The next day, only 35,000 fans this time, and we land on Gentry. Boom. Billy Williams hits one so far Swoboda doesn't move. Boom, Ron bangs one off the center field fence. Bye, bye, Gary. We win this one 14-8. Could have been 140-8.
Sunday winds it up. We get to the golden boy, Seaver, and you can hear all those fans—53,000 this time—moaning. We beat Tommy boy 3-1 but then make the mistake of dropping the last one to Ryan 3-1. So what? Three out of four in their ball park gives us a 1½-game lead over the Cardinals, who are finally over .500, and a 2½-game lead over the world champion Metsies and their world champion pitching staff.
But listen. This is something to paste in your hat and look at in August or September. Those Met pitchers are pretty good, as all of us found out last fall. Maybe they won't become the best staff in the history of baseball the way Rube says, but don't bet a lot against that either. Know what Henry Aaron says about Seaver? "You simply can't unnerve him," that's what Henry says. "He's cocky. And by cocky I don't mean any criticism. I mean confidence."
Henry also likes the other three guys. "Koosman is the same sort of pitcher Seaver is, but he isn't as cocky and so he pitches into more bad luck. Gentry and Ryan can beat you anytime. I simply have never seen so many good young pitchers come up so fast on any club."
And Henry's not the only one. Maury—Maury Wills—thinks Koosman can be another Koufax and, like everybody, he's nuts about Seaver. Old Casey points out that nobody is happy about facing Ryan, he throws so fast. In fact, just about everybody around the league thinks Rube is not all that wrong when he says how great his pitchers are.
The point is, if Henry's impressed, and Maury and Casey are impressed, we should be impressed too, Cub fans. Those pitchers are young, that's for sure. Koosman is 26, Seaver 25, Gentry and Ryan 23. On the theory that they're going to be around a long time and that even though we roughed them up last week they may be back to rough us up come September, it might be good for us to learn as much as we can about them. You know, know your enemy?
Seaver, with three years experience, 57 wins, a Cy Young Award, an $80,000 contract, a well-photographed wife and a converted farm house in Greenwich, Conn., sets the pace. Kid has a great fastball, and his control is unbelievable. His motion has lots to do with his strikeouts. There aren't too many problems he can't solve himself. Sometimes his motion is too quick and he gets to pitching against his front leg. Rube may have to remind him of this, but usually he figures it out himself.
Seaver keeps track of what hitters around the league are doing, especially clubs the Mets will face during the next week. Big on box scores. He also checks to see who is pitching against them. Two nights before he pitches he tries to get 10, maybe 12 hours sleep. Says nine is all he needs the night before a game. But win or lose—and of course it's mostly win—he cannot sleep after pitching, so he stays up for hours reading. He's been reading Prime Time, an Edward R. Murrow biography—not, as he says, because he was a fan of Murrow's but because Murrow was a singular force. Try to figure that one out.
"He's a very down-to-earth guy" is what Bud Harrelson says. Bud's his roomie on the road. "While we were in Montreal. Tom bought a $40 pair of sunglasses, but he isn't bent toward extravagance. He takes a week to pick out a suit. Tom is such a Henry Aaron fan he sent him a telegram after Aaron's 3,000th hit." Imagine that. Probably hopes Henry will take it easy on him.
Now Koosman, tough lefthander as we know, has won 36 games in two seasons with the Mets, plus two more in the World Series. Used to throw a lot of sliders till Gil Hodges and Rube told him to junk the pitch. Stick to the fastball and curve, they said. That gets 'em out. Rube keeps a sharp eye on Jerry when he's pitching to make sure he doesn't drop his arm. You know, if he's tired he has a tendency to do that. His strongest release point is straight overhand, and when he drops to three quarter delivery he has to be brought back up. That's what Rube says.
Koosman is the team joker, a fun-loving Minnesota farm boy. Likes to switch the label on the deodorant can so that it appears to be hair spray. "Koos has more fun with his gags than the people listening" is what Ron Swoboda says.
Joe Deer, the trainer, says Koosman won't come near him. "Seaver likes a light massage and a dab of Abolene cream before pitching," Joe Deer says. "Gentry likes to have his arm stretched by massage of back and shoulder. He also puts his arm in a little ice after he pitches. Ryan needs pinch pads on his right foot and big toe, because he drags it when he strides. But Koosman hardly lets me in the same room with him even."
So much for oddball lefthanders. Now Gentry was a rookie last year when he won 13 games, plus that third Series game. Rube says he's improved more in one year than the other three, even if he looked lousy against us Saturday. Gentry talks in clipped sentences and shows a short temper sometimes, but he doesn't lose his cool. He often wears cowboy boots, blue jeans and chews tobacco. Not when pitching, though. "Can't chew it and think about more than one thing at a time" is what he says. His one problem is that he tries to throw too hard.
Nolan Ryan chewed, too, but bubble gum, until Hodges made him quit, because he felt it hurt the kid's image. Now there's something Gil wouldn't have thought of back there in Brooklyn. Ryan is fast, faster than the others, faster than anybody. Better curve this year, too. Has thrown a one-hitter and two two-hitters, including that one against us Sunday. Has a tendency to lean back once in a while and when he does his stuff is wild-high. He also tries to throw harder than a Nolan Ryan has to.
This is Ryan's third year, though he still hasn't pitched 150 innings in a season. Blisters used to hurt him. Ryan got a lot of ink two years ago by toughening his pitching fingers in pickle juice or something. He's off the pickles now but still uses tincture of benzoin. Kid used his Series money to buy 100 acres in Gonzales, Texas, near his home town of Alvin. Still goes to Alvin Junior College in off season but guesses he won't become a vet now. By the way, think Nancy Seaver is cute? Get a look at Ruth Ryan sometime. A full 10 points.
So that's the opposition. At least part of it. The Cards promise to get tough, too, what with Allen hitting one or two home runs every day and Gibson starting to strike out people like he did in Philadelphia last week. Yeah, 16 of them. Billy Muffett says it's the hardest Gibson's thrown since 1968, but then we already know you can't trust what pitching coaches say. Anyway, we'll have a report on the Cards for you Cub fans real soon. Meantime, even though you know this year we're going to win for sure, let's try not to get too excited about it until after we've faced those Met pitchers for the last time. No point in waking 'em up. Right?