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If one is to believe the gospel according to Charles Schulz, the New York Mets have got everything backwards. In Peanuts the focus of all the other kids' exasperation is Charlie Brown on the mound. On the Mets it often seems that good old Charlie is occupying every position but pitcher. Why there has not yet appeared a book of cartoons entitled "Good Grief, Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda and the Rest of You Guys!" is hard to imagine.
This is not to denigrate the contributions of Neon Cleon Jones, with his .340-something batting average in the midst of a slump, nor is anyone making light of the 11-game winning streak that pushed the Mets dizzily over the .500 mark and into second—yes, second!—place. But if the Mets go on to win the National League's Eastern Division, then the Cy Young Award will have to be broken up into small pieces and spread around the entire New York pitching staff. They will all have earned it.
Last season Met pitchers had a corporate earned run average of 2.72, yet lost 16 more games than they won, thanks to the team batting average of .228. This season, what with offense going up everywhere, the statistical contrast is a little less stark. But during that 11-game streak—an alltime Met record and in fact only six short of the team record for consecutive losses—Tom Seaver (24 years old, three wins), Jerry Koosman (25, two), Gary Gentry (22, two), Tug McGraw (24, one), Jim McAndrew (25), an elderly discovery named Jack DiLauro (26) and senior citizens Don Cardwell (33, one) and Ron Taylor (31, two in relief) averaged, all together, almost nine strikeouts a game, fewer than six enemy hits and a 1.68 ERA.
Meanwhile, their supporters scored more than four runs only four times. Six of the 11 games were won by one run and two of them by two runs. In the first game of the streak Koosman went 10 innings, gave up four hits and retired with the score 0-0. DiLauro had to leave the seventh game after nine innings of two-hit ball. The old Mets may be dead, as Tommie Agee cried euphorically at one point during the spurt, but the new ones by no means offer the best support a young pitcher could ask for.
So what do these ill-supported youths, these waifs, have to look forward to, coming along from the Mets' farm teams? Surely a new crop of infielders, outfielders and pinch hitters is ripening down there? Well, no. Coming up most prominently are a bunch of fine young pitchers.
In the five years of the free-agent draft, the Mets' first choice has been a pitcher three times. In 1965 it was Les Rohr, who was born in Lowestoft, England, lives in Billings, Mont., stands 6'5" and still throws extremely hard today at the age of 23. So far his big-league record is two wins and three losses; in the minors he is only 13-23, but the Mets are still expecting him to develop. He started with a one-hitter in Memphis this year, then went into the service for 20 days and now is working back into shape (he tends to put on weight).
The 1967 draft pick, Jon Matlack, is the best prospect in the Mets' system. He is 19, was the youngest player on the Mets' roster this spring and is now perhaps the most valuable on that of Tidewater, Va., the Mets' AAA farm team, where he is 7-3. He was 13-6 at Raleigh-Durham last year with an ERA of 2.76 and 188 strikeouts in 173 innings. It is obvious he is a better prospect than the rest because he pitched seven no-hitters before going professional, whereas the others only pitched four or five.
But Joe McDonald, director of the Mets' minor league operations, says that this year's first choice, Randy Sterling of Key West, may be more advanced than Matlack was at the same age. He is about the same size, 6'3" and 195 pounds, he also signed for about $50,000 just last week, and McDonald calls him "the most advanced high school prospect in quite a few years." He will report to the Mets' Pompano Beach farm, where he may or may not maintain his senior year average of almost two strikeouts an inning and a 0.45 ERA.
Sterling almost has to do that to hold his own among the farm prospects. For instance, there is 24-year-old Jim Bib-by, who has two years in the Army behind him, stands 6'4", weighs 225 and looks and throws like Don Newcombe. The Mets do not say that he throws as hard as Newcombe, though. Why use old Dodgers as standards for comparison? They say he may well throw harder, even, than Matlack or Nolan Ryan.
Then there is Rich Folkers, 22, who was on the Texas League all-star team last year and is in the Army now. And Danny Frisella, 23, who spent some time with the Mets the last two years, hurt his shoulder and is now coming on strong at Tidewater. And Barry Raziano, 22, whose quality was close to Matlack's—a 1.75 ERA at Memphis last year—until he hurt his elbow, which he is now resting. And Jesse Hudson, 20, at Memphis, a star reliever.