By any standards, it would take an upset of major proportions for the Los Angeles Dodgers to beat the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series beginning here tonight. The Mets won 10 of 11 regular-season meetings (one was rained out and never rescheduled), outscoring the Dodgers 49-18, and outhomering them 10-2. Even rookie New York shortstop Kevin Elster, who never terrorized anyone else, hit three home runs against Los Angeles.
The home field advantage doesn't appear to mean much in this case, either, since the Mets won every game they played in Dodger Stadium. The lone L.A. victory in the series came more than four months ago, on June 1, in Shea Stadium.
Even 23-game winner Orel Hershiser, manager Tommy Lasorda's meal ticket, and a prime Cy Young Award candidate, had a losing record against the Mets.
On the other side, Dwight Gooden (18-9), who will start tonight's opener for New York, says Dodger Stadium is his favorite park on the road. Gooden is 3-0 this season against the Dodgers, including a shutout plus two other games in which he allowed only single runs.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the vein of quality that runs through manager Davey Johnson's pitching staff only begins with Gooden. Met pitchers have recorded 22 shutouts this season. The other starters include Dave Cone (20-3 with a 2.22 ERA), Ron Darling (17-9), and left-hander Sid Fernandez (12-10). Most southpaws beat the Dodgers just by showing up.
Ordinarily another left-hander, Bob Ojeda, would be the No. 4 man, but a freak power saw accident sidelined him for the season, bringing Fernandez, a former starter who had been shifted to the bullpen, back into the rotation.
The Mets also have what most experts consider the most effective relief corps in the league. The names to remember are Randy Myers (24 saves), Roger McDowell (16), and Terry Leach.
With its balance of pitching, power, defense, and depth, New York began 1988 as a potential runaway division winner. Midway through the season the team's pace went from the ``William Tell Overture'' to ``Swan Lake, '' but it still switched back in time for the Mets to wind up with exactly 100 victories.
If the Dodgers were to somehow pull off the improbable, it would rank with the old New York Giants sweeping Cleveland (winner of 111 regular-season games) in the 1954 World Series.
One thing the Dodgers have in common with the Mets is outstanding pitching. The ace is Hershiser, who set a major league record recently by completing 59 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. He's scheduled to duel Gooden tonight, and if the best-of-seven series goes the limit he could pitch three times. In other contests Lasorda can choose from among Tim Leary, who mastered the split-fingered fastball to win 17 games; Tim Belcher, who won 12 games;, and veteran left-hander John Tudor, who was 4-3 for L.A. after coming over in a late-season trade with St. Louis for Pedro Guerrero.
And don't underestimate the Dodger bullpen, led by Jay Howell (21 saves) and Alejandro Pena (11) and including Ricky Horton, Brian Holton, and former Met ace Jesse Orosco.
As long as Lasorda is able to write the name of slugger Kirk Gibson (who has been fighting injuries) into his lineup, the Dodgers are not apt to go quietly. Gibson, who never saw a fastball he didn't think he could hit, is the resident boss and ringmaster of the clubhouse.
The New York offense, led by Darryl Strawberry (39 homers, 101 RBIs), has been more productive on a season-long basis, however, and thus the Mets have to be accorded the overall edge.