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Putting the Mets' young pitchers in historical context, for now

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey during

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey during warmups during Game 4 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Credit: Newsday/ Thomas A. Ferrara

How does the Mets' stellar young pitching rotation stack up in historical terms? An excellent question, particularly now that we have a few days to debate such matters before the World Series begins.

Excellent, and yet . . . unanswerable.

Better that we revisit the matter in a couple of weeks. Better yet, in five years. Because pitchers always have been the most fragile and unpredictable element of a baseball roster, now more than ever in the Era of Bum Elbows.

So as good as Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have been in delivering a pennant to Flushing, there is no way to know yet what they will be in the broader arc of baseball lore.

The gold standard for sustained pitching success is the Braves of the 1990s, featuring the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, along with Steve Avery and Denny Neagle and others who passed through Atlanta.

But other staffs have made their marks, too many to mention here. The 1971 Orioles had four 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. The 1954 Indians had Bob Lemon, Early Winn, Mike Garcia and Bob Feller.

Just for fun, we should mention the 1913 Philadelphia Athletics, and not only because of pitchers Chief Bender, Eddie Plank and "Bullet" Joe Bush, but also because they had a second baseman named . . . Danny Murphy!

So far, these Mets fall into a different, shorter-term category. Two of them are rookies who started the season in Triple-A Las Vegas!

The best way to put their limited collective resume into historical perspective is to remember a half-century-ago team whose playoff experience was a close parallel: the 1966 Orioles.

There was only one postseason series in those days, the World Series, and the Orioles won it in a sweep of the Dodgers by using a series of extremely young hurlers to take out an opponent that relied heavily on two star pitchers.

Sound familiar?

These Mets beat the Dodgers, featuring Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, in the NLDS, then swept the Cubs of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the NLCS. The Mets' four starters in those series have been ages 27 (deGrom), 26 (Harvey), 24 (Matz) and 23 (Syndergaard).

In 1966, the Dodgers had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in their arsenal, yet didn't win a game.

The Orioles' starters were McNally, 23, Wally Bunker, 23, and Jim Palmer, 20, who won Game 2, 6-0, over Koufax in what would be the final start of Koufax's career.

The only runs Baltimore allowed in the series were two by McNally in Game 1. Moe Drabowsky relieved him and got the win. The Orioles shut out the Dodgers in the final three games and finished with a staff ERA of 0.50 for the Series.

It is unlikely the Mets' pitchers will be that good next week. The mid-to-late 1960s were an era marked by low scoring before the mound was lowered in 1969.

Still, at the moment those O's are the closest thing baseball has had to an October such as the one the Mets have had. Even they, though, did not regularly trot out four guys who throw in the mid-to-upper 90s, along with a closer who can bring it, too, in Jeurys Familia, who recently turned 26.

In that sense, what baseball fans are witnessing now from the Mets has never been seen before.


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