Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who'll Win? Look for the Best Pitching

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who'll Win? Look for the Best Pitching

Article excerpt

The field was a crisp green, and the sun spent the better part of the afternoon struggling to fight through the clouds. It was opening day for the New York Mets, Day 1 in a season of great expectations.

There was Roberto Alomar, the quintessential second baseman, a player who can hit with consistency and field as well as anyone who's ever patrolled the right side of the infield. Nearby was Mo Vaughn, the jumbo-sized slugger who looks good in any lineup. And, of course, there was the one who is impossible to ignore, the catcher, Mike Piazza, who is the cornerstone of this organization.

On this day, however, Alomar, Vaughn, and Piazza didn't add up to much. They combined for only 2 hits in 13 at-bats.

But it didn't really matter. The Mets easily won, 6-2, over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Once again, as it almost always does, pitching carried the day. Al Leiter was solid for six innings, giving up only one run on four hits. He wasn't brilliant; he was good enough. "I'll take it," he said, after the game.

Let that be a lesson. Hitters are nice, but pitchers are essential. Even on a so-so day. "We know we are a good team this year," said third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. "But we'll need good pitching to make it through the season. It's a long season."

Every year, teams desperately try to rely on hitting to win. The Mets are a case in point, as are the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers. This year, the Mets stacked their batting lineup to make it one of the most formidable in the game - after being one of the worst last year. But they did perhaps too little to solidify their starting rotation and bullpen.

The Mets' rotation, like most in Major League Baseball, is full of question marks. Other than Leiter, who's at times inconsistent and injury-prone (he was 11-11 last year), the Mets will have to count on guys like Steve Trachsel, Shawn Estes, Pedro Astacio, and Jeff D'Amico (a combined 30-39 last year) to carry them through the summer. The Mets closer, Armando Benitez, can throw the ball more than 100 miles per hour, but he has a tendency to self-destruct in the big games.

It's not for a lack of effort. With a $102 million payroll, the Mets went out this off-season and signed Estes and Astacio. But there are simply too few quality pitchers to go around.

In 2002, the teams that will probably win the most games are the teams with the best pitchers. It's a simple - but often overlooked - formula.

Last year, in a memorable post-season, it was the Arizona Diamondbacks who won the World Series on the strength of their two aces, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Both are back this year, albeit a year older on an aging club.

But both are bulldogs, and if anything their staff has been bolstered by the additions of starter Rick Helling and the gritty Todd Stottlemyre, who didn't pitch last season because of injury. …

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