"And now," Gary Carter beams, "he has developed a changeup."
Which answers the question: What does baseball's Mozart do for an encore? Last year, at the age of 20, Dwight Gooden led the majors in earned run average, victories and strikeouts to become the only post-World War II pitcher besides Sandy Koufax to win pitching's Triple Crown. Gooden also became the youngest modern 20-game winner and Cy Young Award recipient. In two major league seasons, he has a record of 41-13, an ERA of 2.00 and 544 strikeouts in 494‚Öî innings.
"This is a simple game when you've got great pitching," proclaims manager Davey Johnson. No matter how many stars the Mets have, no matter how many potential problems, all discussion of the team begins and ends with the pitching. The Mets allowed fewer runs and struck out more hitters than any other team did in 1985 although none of their four primary starters had more than two full years of experience. Ron Darling won 16 games and was among the leaders in strikeouts (167) and earned run average (2.90). Rick Aguilera came out of Tidewater on May 21 to win 10 games. Sid Fernandez also started the season in Tidewater, and in only 170‚Öì innings with the Mets struck out 180 batters, fifth best in the National League. From Boston the Mets got Bobby Ojeda, who tied for the major league lead in shutouts two years ago. Roger McDowell keeps a medicine-ball sinker in the bullpen, but there is concern about Jesse Orosco, who didn't throw with his zing last year.
The Mets' game is to stay close and win with game breakers, and they have a number of them. Darryl Strawberry hit 29 homers, even though he missed seven weeks. The Cardinals can holler all they want at Carter, but they can never say they haven't seen him hustle, even on a bad right knee. And no one can say that his catching, power and arm are anything but tremendous assets. Keith Hernandez was booed around Florida for all the post-Pittsburgh drug publicity, but he seems to have put the distractions of last season behind him.
The Mets won as many games in 1985, 98, as any second-place NL team since divisional play began in 1969. They've improved themselves. And he has a changeup.
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
Was batted higher with men on than with bases empty in each of last eight years.
Put aside crossword puzzles to hit .333 against Cards, with five CWRBIs, since trade.
Batted 202 points higher vs. righties than lefties (.324-. 122), largest difference in NL.
Has a career batting average of .312 leading off innings.
Mets won 10 of the 11 games in which he hit a home run.
Batted. 132 In late-inning-pressure situations * last season.
Mets 21 games over .500 with him starting and leading off, 14 above with Mookie Wilson.
Yearly batting averages with runners in scoring position since 1983: .202, .261, .330.
Over his last nine starts, he drove in as many runs as he allowed--eight.
First No. 2 pitcher in Mets history to have a record of 10 games above .500.
Led majors in strikeouts (9.51) and fewest hits (5.71) per nine innings.
First times against clubs: 4-4, 3.68 ERA; subsequent outings: 6-3, 2.92 ERA.
Opponents had one hit in 19 at bats with the bases loaded last season.
*A late-inning-pressure (LIP) situation is any at bat occurring in the 7th inning or later with the score tied or the batter's team trailing by one, two or three runs, or four runs with the bases loaded; for a pitcher, an LIP situation occurs in the 7th or later when teams are within two runs of each other.