Trying to become what he calls a "smart pitcher" who gets a lot of ground-ball outs, Gooden no longer seems as overwhelming as he was during his first two seasons in the big leagues, but Johnson says that Gooden is still "learning about himself," and that he will hit a hot streak again soon. He had better hurry. It is June 7, and the Mets are clinging to a nine-game lead in the NL East.
SUNDAY, JUNE 8
Sid Fernandez beats the Pirates 4-3 with a little help from Orosco and a lot of help from Mitchell, who has an RBI single, a double and a two-run homer. Every Met may be wearing his tape player in his pants soon.
Fernandez is only 23—midway between Darling's seasoned 25 and Gooden's frightening 21—and there will be more days like this before he settles down and establishes himself as one of the top lefthanders in the game. The Mets lead the league in guys born in Hawaii ( Fernandez and Darling), not to mention guys who come from places that sound Hawaiian ( Wally Backman attended Aloha High School in Aloha, Ore.), but Fernandez is actually of Portugese-Irish background.
It wasn't his background so much as his foreground that caused him problems during three seasons with the Dodger organization. The Dodgers gave up on him because "they thought I was going to eat my way out of the game," Fernandez says, and after he was traded to New York he ballooned even further, up to 246 pounds. "I was an El Blimpo," he says. "It was hard for me to be very mobile. When you have a big belly, it puts a strain on you."
Fernandez is down to a stocky 208 pounds now, and holding there on a diet of chicken and fish. Actually, he's been eating up opposing hitters. And the New York Mets are feasting on the National League East. Their lead is still nine games. The magic number is 102.