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TIME FOR A CALL TO ARMS PITCHING FIGURES TO BE VITAL IN DODGERS-METS SERIES.

Byline: TONY JACKSON Staff Writer

NEW YORK - Displayed on a wall of Shea Stadium's press level is the enlarged cover of a late-1960s New York Mets official yearbook, featuring a panoramic view of the sold-out ballpark on a brilliantly sunny afternoon.

But in a development that must have caused havoc for air traffic controllers at adjacent LaGuardia, the heads of then-Mets pitching aces Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack -- all of whom are smiling broadly despite apparently having been decapitated -- are floating in midair above the rim of the stadium.

That misguided era in the history of graphic design has long since passed. But the era of strong Mets pitching hasn't.

The good news for the Dodgers, who begin their best-of-five National League Division Series against the Mets on Wednesday at Shea, is that Pedro Martinez is lost until sometime next season with calf and shoulder injuries. The bad news is that the heads of Orlando Hernandez, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel are still firmly attached to their bodies -- and waiting to go to work on the Dodgers in Games 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

The three starters combined to go 41-26 this season, including 3-1 against the Dodgers.

The Mets also pack a punch, with an American League-style lineup that doesn't seem to have a weak spot from one through eight, and it got stronger Sunday with news that left fielder Cliff Floyd's chronic left Achilles' tendon injury won't keep him out of Game 1. The Mets finished fourth in the NL in home runs (200) and third in slugging (.445). Thanks mostly to the fleet Jose Reyes, who led the league with 64 steals, they can also beat you with speed.

Still, of the seven games played between the Dodgers and Mets this season, four of which were won by New York, pitching was the key to five of them, including all four in a late-season series split between to the two clubs three weeks ago.

So, while the looking ahead may not begin until the two clubs show up for today's workout and media session at Shea, let the looking back commence.

In capsule form, this is what took place on the seven occasions when the Dodgers and Mets took the field together in 2006 -- and how it might impact this week's series:

June 5, Dodger Stadium, Mets 4, Dodgers 1: Rookie Alay Soler, who was sent to the minors July 2 and never came back, stymied the Dodgers for seven innings, limiting them to a solo home run by Willy Aybar -- remember him? Dodgers starter Brett Tomko, who has since moved to the bullpen, gave up homers to two of the first four batters in the first inning, including a two-run blast by Carlos Delgado. Tomko then settled into a groove, but it was too late to matter much.

This time, the Dodgers won't have to worry about Soler starting a game. They won't have to worry about Tomko starting one, either.

June 6, Dodger Stadium, Dodgers 8, Mets 5: Derek Lowe was off his game somewhat, but not as much as Martinez, who flirted with danger for five innings and got away with it. In the sixth, the Dodgers exploded on him. Four of the first five batters hit safely, including rookie Matt Kemp's two-run homer. The Dodgers hung a six-spot in the inning against Martinez and reliever Heath Bell to go up 8-2.

Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton almost gave it all back in the seventh, failing to retire any of the four batters he faced. Takashi Saito rescued him with two shutout innings, and Eric Gagne pitched a perfect ninth. No one knew it then, but it would be Gagne's only save of the season and possibly his last in a Dodgers uniform.

June 7, Dodger Stadium, Mets 9, Dodgers 7: This was the game that finally got Odalis Perez demoted to the bullpen, after he allowed seven runs on 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings.

Rafael Furcal homered twice in the first two innings off Glavine, driving in four runs in the process. But that couldn't overcome the latest implosion by Perez, who got two quick outs in the top of the first, then allowed five batters in a row to reach, a stretch that was capped by Jose Valentin's double and Lastings Milledge's triple.

The Dodgers hung in until the seventh, when Milledge's two-run homer off Jae Seo put the game away. Billy Wagner pitched a perfect ninth for one of his two saves against the Dodgers.

After losing two of three in that series, the Dodgers were 33-27. By the time the clubs met again in early September, the characters had changed dramatically on the Dodgers' side. Aybar, Perez and Seo all had been traded. Gagne had been lost for the season.

And the Dodgers were in the process of winning 41 of their final 60 regular-season games.

September 7, Shea Stadium, Mets 7, Dodgers 0: This time, Glavine was vintage. He pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings, retiring 10 in a row at one point. Three Mets relievers completed the shutout. And Dodgers right-hander Brad Penny, who has been shaky since the All-Star break, got torched for seven runs on 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings.

The Dodgers went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

September 8, Shea Stadium, Dodgers 5, Mets 0: This game will always be remembered as Hong-Chih Kuo's coming-out party -- and the reason the rookie left-hander is getting the ball for Game 2 on Thursday night.

Making his first major-league start after several lackluster relief appearances late last season and early this season, Kuo shut out the Mets on three hits over six innings while striking out seven. The Dodgers, meanwhile, got all the runs they needed on a two-out error by Mets third baseman David Wright in the first inning, victimizing possible Game 4 starter John Maine.

Tomko, who by now was having success as a reliever, combined with Broxton and Saito to allow one hit over the final three innings.

September 9, Shea Stadium, Mets 3, Dodgers 2: Hernandez silenced the Dodgers, retiring 15 in a row after Furcal's leadoff double in the first. But Greg Maddux matched him long enough to allow the Dodgers to take a brief 2-1 lead off a tiring Hernandez in the sixth, with the help of Reyes' error. J.D. Drew's two-out single scored Kenny Lofton to put the Dodgers on top.

But in the bottom of the inning, Tomko gave up a two-out, two-run single to Wright to put the Mets in front to stay. It was the first of three blown saves by Tomko on the 10-game trip.

September 10, Shea Stadium, Dodgers 9, Mets 1: Eric Stults, another rookie lefty making his first big-league start after previously working out of the bullpen, matched Kuo, giving up just a run on two hits over six innings. After going down in order in the first two innings, the Dodgers roughed up Trachsel for four runs in the third, the big blow being Lofton's bases-loaded triple.

Unlike Kuo, Stults couldn't sustain his success, and really wasn't given the chance to. He went back to the bullpen and didn't start again until Sunday's season finale at San Francisco, where he went five adequate innings and got no decision. Stults then was among the first cuts as general manager Ned Colletti and manager Grady Little began setting their playoff roster.

tony.jackson@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- color) Derek Lowe, top, will start against the Mets' Orlando Hernandez in Game 1 of their National League Division Series.

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

(2 -- color) no caption (Orlando Hernandez)

Gregory Smith/Associated Press

(3) The Mets' Julio Franco slides home just under the tag of Dodgers catcher Russell Martin during the Dodgers' loss June 7.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Box:

(1) NL DIVISION SERIES

(2) POST SEASON SCHEDULE
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 3, 2006
Words:1328
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