Dwight Gooden of the Mets is 5-1 in seven starts, with an ERA of 1.42. In 57 innings, he has given up 38 hits and nine walks, while striking out 42. On Tuesday of last week he blanked the Astros on two hits for the 13th shutout of his career. He doesn't turn 22 until Nov. 16.
So what Gooden really wants to talk about is his hitting, naturally. On the night he shut out the Astros, for instance, he drove in two runs with a triple off Bob Knepper and sent another ball to the warning track. "If that triple had gone out, I'd remember it more than the two-hitter," said Gooden, who doesn't want to be known just as a good-hitting pitcher. "I'd prefer to be called a good-pitching hitter."
Through Sunday Gooden was batting .222, 4 for 18, with three RBIs. Last year he and Fernando Valenzuela tied for the league leadership in hits by pitchers with 21, but Gooden's average of .226 was 10 points higher than Valenzuela's. Gooden, who had one home run, also drove in nine runs to place second behind Houston's Mike Scott, who had 11 RBIs. Dwight batted .293 with runners on base and .286 with runners in scoring position and two outs. In his last nine starts of '85 he drove in as many runs, eight, as he allowed. He is a natural switch-hitter, but in order to protect his precious right arm, the Mets say he must only bat righthanded. "If I could bat lefthanded," says Gooden, "then you'd really see something."
The greatest good-pitching hitter of all time, of course, was Babe Ruth, and through the years there have been a number of notable pitchers who could also swat: Smokey Joe Wood, Red Ruffing, Wes Ferrell and Warren Spahn; and, in recent times, Don Drysdale, Ken Brett and Don Robinson.
It's still too early to tell whether Dr. K will join their ranks, but he talks a good game. "If I could play every day, I'd do more," he says. "I think I could hit .290. Mostly singles and doubles and maybe seven home runs. Ten tops. But I've got to get more ABs."
Now that rosters are at 24 men, Mets manager Davey Johnson has been sorely tempted to use Gooden as a pinch-hitter. "But what would happen," Johnson says, "if Doc pulls a muscle running to first?" Not to worry, says Gooden. "I'll go deep and trot around the bases."
As his reputation as a batter has grown, so has the resistance from opposing pitchers. "They're pitching me different now," says Gooden. "The word is out. I see more breaking balls. They try to paint the corners on me. I tell Straw [ Darryl Strawberry] he gets more pitches to hit than I do." Said Strawberry last week, just before Gooden took the mound against the Astros, "All I hear about is his hitting, but how big is he, six-foot-three? I'm just asking, but don't you think he's awfully big to be a Punch-and-Judy hitter?" When the message was relayed to Gooden, he said, "Tell him we'll talk after the game."
Gooden's goals for this year have nothing to do with wins and losses, ERA or K's. He wants 100 ABs, 25 hits, three home runs and 10 RBIs and he'd be chagrined if he didn't lead the Mets' pitchers—a good-hitting staff—in batting. He has this dream, he says. "A couple of years from now, if the Mets agreed to pay me $400,000 a year [at present he makes $1.32 million], I'd go to Double A, work on my hitting, come back as an outfielder and play every day."