Asked once to explain how he has produced a .500 batting average against Dwight Gooden, San Francisco outfielder Chili Davis said, “He ain’t God, man.”
The majority of National League hitters might not agree.
The New York Mets’ 21-year-old right-hander will start against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium tonight with a 46-14 record, 5-1 this year.
In six career starts against the Dodgers, Gooden has a 4-1 record and has held Los Angeles to a team batting average of .169. The most hits the Dodgers have had in any of the six games is eight.
Bill Madlock, who can’t be held responsible since he didn’t join the Dodgers until last August, suggested that the only thing to fear in facing Gooden is fear itself.
“I don’t change my style for nobody,” the four-time National League batting champion said.
“I consider myself the best when I’m out there, and I’m sure he does the same. I don’t care if I’m facing Gooden or my son. I’m not going to do anything different. I’m not going to lose any sleep over Gooden.”
Against Gooden, Madlock is 2 for 6 and has yet to strike out.
Mike Marshall is 1 for 11 and has struck out five times. But he said that he considered an assignment against Gooden as just another game.
“I’ve faced (hard throwers like) Lee Smith, Nolan Ryan, Todd Worrell,” Marshall said. “Gooden is probably the best, but I can’t change the way I am.
“I just have to concentrate on swinging the bat a little quicker.”
The reasons that Gooden is tough to hit are obvious.
“He throws hard, and you can’t sit on one pitch,” San Diego’s Tony Gwynn said. “When he first came up, he didn’t throw a good breaking ball. Now he has the best. He also doesn’t walk anyone. He’s 21, but he’s poised.
“What can you say that hasn’t been said?
“It’s like facing Nolan Ryan except Gooden’s control is better. He doesn’t beat himself.”
There are innumerable statistics documenting Gooden’s stature, but one of the most impressive is this:
After just two-plus seasons, Gooden has 13 shutouts. Among those who were still looking for their first shutouts at a similar age were Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Ron Guidry, Jim Bunning, Phil and Joe Niekro and Ryan.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at that age,” San Diego’s Graig Nettles said. “He has a great fastball and curve, and he has good control.
“I enjoy hitting against him because I enjoy hitting against pitchers who challenge you, like Ryan. And he’s not cocky out there. He’s not trying to show you up. He’s the type of guy you want to tip your hat to if he strikes you out.”
Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia has struck out only twice in 16 at-bats against Gooden. He has also had only three hits.
“Compounding his obvious physical ability is the fact that his confidence level is now so high that it appears to me he feels invincible,” Scioscia said.
“He’s throwing harder than Nolan now, and he has an outstanding curve that’s going to get better. It may be hard to believe, but he’s shown signs of reaching even higher plateaus.”
Last year, when he was posting a 24-4 record with a 1.53 earned-run average and restricting opponents to a .201 batting average, Gooden permitted an average of only six hits a start.
“Teams will have to play a lot more ‘little ball’ against him--bunt, move guys over, scratch out a run here and there,” Scioscia said. “You can’t play for a big inning because it isn’t going to happen.”
The Mets’ Gary Carter, who used to try to hit against Gooden and now catches for him, told the New York Times last year: “Doc’s in a class by himself. It’s remarkable. If he stays healthy, nothing is beyond his reach.
“His fastball is No. 1, awesome. He also has a slider and change, and when he throws his breaking ball over for a strike, batters have no chance.”
Chili Davis may take his hacks and emerge thinking that Gooden is less than divine, but a Deacon named Jones, the San Diego batting instructor, expressed the gospel that most subscribe to when asked to name the league’s three toughest pitchers.
“Gooden, Gooden and Gooden,” Jones said.
Times staff writers Gordon Edes and Tom Friend contributed to this story.