KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Pitching has been at the center of it all, always. For this team, for this franchise, its greatest days have come directly from the brilliance on the mound.
This is the franchise of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, arms that brought championships to Flushing. And now that the Mets again stand on the brink of greatness, their fate is tied to their arms.
"For all of us, we're kind of sitting around the locker room all talking to each other, and I don't think anything has really set in for us yet," Matt Harvey said Monday on the eve of his Game 1 start against the Royals in the World Series. "Which in our minds I think is a positive."
That Harvey's turn comes first seems fitting for the Mets, whose resurgence has mirrored the growth of a dynamic young pitching staff that is the envy of baseball.
They weren't supposed to be here. Not yet. But Harvey roared back from a year lost to Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom emerged as a true ace. Noah Syndergaard proved that he is more than just a blazing fastball. And Long Island's Steven Matz has rounded out the quartet, bringing power from the left side.
"If you would have told me I'd be here in April, I would have probably laughed at you," Matz said.
Of course, nobody's laughing now, not with the Mets four victories away from ending a championship drought that dates to 1986. The enormity of it all hit captain David Wright when he took the field for a workout on Sunday.
"You see the New York Mets logo right next to the World Series logo," said Wright, the franchise's longtime cornerstone. "You can't help but smile and enjoy the moment. Just a moment of jubilation, joy, I guess satisfaction, are the words that come to mind. You become proud, you become excited. It's just a special feeling."
The outcome, of course, will boil down to the pitching. Syndergaard has touched 100 mph routinely during the postseason. Harvey and deGrom work steadily in the mid-to- high 90s. And Matz's mid-90s velocity is exceptional from the left side.
"Just powerful," said the Royals' Alex Gordon.
That foursome of twenty-somethings has led a pitching staff that has posted a 2.81 ERA in the postseason. Mets pitchers have 91 strikeouts to 22 walks in nine games.
"When you watch video of these guys, especially the last series against Chicago, you see these guys have the ability to pitch backward," the Royals' Eric Hosmer said. "They can throw their off-speed over for strikes. They can throw their fastball late in the count. That's what makes them that much tougher."
Indeed, dominance has come not just by pumping fastballs but through what Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum called an "incredibly advanced" feel for pitching.
But in these Royals, the Mets must contend with a lineup that seems specifically designed to counter their best weapons.
The clubs have used differing styles to reach the sport's grandest stage.
The Mets crave power, even if it means striking out. Daniel Murphy's second-half surge has been a direct result of adopting the mantra, practicing more selectivity to drive pitches with power.
"It's not always a bad thing to swing and miss," Murphy said. "If you swing and miss, you may live and fight for another pitch."
But the Royals treat strikeouts as a mortal sin, especially because they rarely walk. No team in baseball has fared better against fastballs than the Royals. No group has been harder to strike out, a reason they are confident about their chances.
"They're great pitchers, no doubt about it," Gordon said. "They've got great stuff. But we feel like we're pretty good hitters, too. We feel like it's going to be a great matchup. Our team has accepted the challenges all year and we've come out on top."
The Mets, too, have risen to challenges. And on the eve of the World Series, they reveled in what lies ahead.
Manager Terry Collins has long made it a habit to roam the field during workouts, chatting up the players who cross his path. All were wide-eyed, leaving him unable to distinguish the rookies from veterans.
"They're walking around, they say, 'Wow, it's a cool place, never been here,' '' Collins said. " 'Man, we're in the World Series.' And it strikes home. It's what it's all about."