Starting arms strong enough to lift Mets higher
If pitchers can stifle AL champ the way they did Cubs, World Series is for the taking
CHICAGO -- If the New York Mets continue to pitch like this, the National League pennant is not all they are going to win.
Who can stop the parade of flamethrowers? Who can even hit them enough to make a difference?
Not the Chicago Cubs. The Mets swept by them, 8-3, in the National League Championship Series like a 98-mph heater against a tardy bat. Four games, no contest.
Wednesday night, with the Mets leading the NLCS, 3-0, just before the start of Game 4, the Cubs played "Alive" by Pearl Jam on the public address system. Played it very loudly, too, the message being that the Cubs were down but were very much alive.
As it turned out, the more appropriate song would have been "The Night Chicago Died" by Paper Lace. The Mets scored early and often, taking a 6-0 lead by the second inning. It was up to Steven Matz, making his eighth start as a big leaguer, to hold the lead. He did much better than that.
Despite the final score, the game didn't seem that close. Although Matz was removed one out short of qualifying for the victory, he limited the Cubs to one run in 4 2/3 innings. He scrambled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth, allowing just one run. When the Cubs put two on with two outs in the fifth, Mets manager Terry Collins went from one end of the age spectrum to the other, lifting the 24-year-old Matz and replacing him with Bartolo Colon, 42.
Colon, of course, responded with an inning-ending strikeout of Kris Bryant. Colon was awarded the decision, giving him the distinction of going the longest between postseason victories -- 14 years, 12 days between postseason wins, breaking the record of exactly 14 years by Milt Wilcox (Oct. 5, 1970-Oct. 5, 1984).
Over the four games, the Cubs scored eight runs. Only six came against the Mets' starters -- Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matz. Those four combined in this series for a 2.16 ERA. Collectively, they gave up 15 hits in 25 innings, walked six and struck out 29, compiling a WHIP of 0.84.
They didn't do it alone. The relief corps was solid, except for Tyler Clippard's surrender of a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 4. The hitting was timely. Daniel Murphy's time was every night. In one of the most amazing performances in postseason history, he homered in a record six consecutive postseason games. Murphy was named the MVP of this series.
Mets manager Terry Collins waited patiently for first baseman Lucas Duda to emerge from an October slump. Collins' patience was finally rewarded in Game 4 as Duda homered, doubled twice and drove in five runs.
But the foundation of this sweep to the NL pennant was the Mets' starting pitching. They had the better of it against the Cubs on four straight nights, and that was the story. And the first two of those nights were against an exceptional veteran, Jon Lester, and then a strong NL Cy Young Award candidate, Jake Arrieta.
"That was a pretty impressive four games they played against us," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Game 4. "They didn't give us ... they did not let us up for air at any point. Their domination of the early part of the game and their pitching was impressive.
"They played well, they didn't make mistakes. So it's not so much to be disappointed in our performance. They were just that good for four days, man. I've got to give them credit."
The Cubs have a lineup stocked with youth and talent and power. They were fifth in the NL in runs scored, sixth in home runs and fifth in on-base percentage. Over the last two months of the regular season, they were the best team in baseball (42-18).
But here, they hit .164, with an on-base percentage of .225. They were stopped cold, not just by the power of the young Mets starters, but by their command, their ability to utilize secondary pitches and their poise.
Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom and Matz set an unbeatable tone for the Mets in this series. The rest of the team did its part, as well, so the Mets were never beaten.
The last fans to leave Wrigley Field on Wednesday night were generally not North Siders. A group of orange and blue-clad Mets fans chanted "Let's Go Mets!" as long as their vocal cords held out. They interrupted themselves only to chant "MVP!" at Daniel Murphy or to salute their manager, "Terry Collins! Terry Collins!"
Mets players came out onto the field to receive individual salutes from the crowd. Those players were undoubtedly glad to leave the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field, which is so tiny as to be claustrophobia-inducing. But they were also glad to be greeted outside as the NL champions, one-half of the 2015 World Series.
Next, if their pitching holds up, who is going to beat them?