2005 NEWS

2005 News > 9/18/05

CHANGE IN PITCHING STYLE BRINGS GLAVINE SUCCESS

By Michael P. Geffner, Times-Herald Record
Original Article HERE.

Tom Glavine never had a moment of doubt this season. He had moments. "Several of them," he says.

There were times, especially early on as he was pummeled again and again, where Glavine wondered quietly, alone at home: Is this really the end of the line? Is it possible to feel so good and yet be so done? Was everybody right? Am I the last one to know I'm finished?

He kept putting on a strong front with the media after games, complaining mostly about changing strike zones and kinks in his mechanics, saying he still felt close and that his stuff was still there and it was just a matter of time until everything clicked together.

But few, if anybody, believed him. Of course, he knew they didn't, and even understood in a way. After a couple of god-awful back-to-back starts within the first month of the season against the Braves and Phillies, in which he didn't even log five innings total, rocked for seven runs in one, eight in the other he himself didn't know what to believe.

He only knew that something was desperately wrong, and that the sliver of insecurity he's buried so well over the years, with things such as Cy Young awards and 20-win seasons and World Series MVPs, was suddenly rising big-time to the surface.

"I don't care who you are or how much success you've had, you don't ever know for sure (whether you still have it)," the 39-year-old left-hander with 272 lifetime victories says. "I know I'm getting older, and there'll come a point where my body won't do what I want it to do anymore. And so, when you're not doing your job, which I'm not used to, and things aren't coming as easily as they always did, you can't help but think that maybe you've hit that time."

He took those two games hard. He sunk deep into the pits emotionally. He also felt this incredible guilt for letting down his teammates.

"I wasn't giving us a chance to win," he says. "I wasn't going to accept that, and I certainly wasn't going to give into (those feelings of doubt)."

It might not have been rock bottom, but it was close enough for Glavine to finally open up his mind fully to what pitching coach Rick Peterson had been harping on since last year: To move away from his old, predictable sinkers-and-changeups-away game and create a new, more balanced, unpredictable one.

"I wasn't asking Tommy to reinvent himself, just to readjust," Peterson says. "He already had all the tools I was asking him to use. He just never had to use them before."

Peterson wanted Glavine to pitch inside more way more, in fact and throw more curves and cut fastballs.

Although Glavine agreed with that thinking on an intellectual level, even from the time Peterson first suggested it, he remained reluctant to use it during starts.

"When you've done something one way and been good at it for so long, it's difficult to go away from that," Glavine says. "Even when you see all the bad stuff going on, with getting your brains beaten out, you don't want to admit to yourself that you need to change completely. You don't want to give into your circumstances and go against all the things you've been so comfortable doing over your career. I wasn't ready to totally rethink the mental side of the game and change how I pitch."

Peterson realizes he was asking Glavine for nothing less than a leap of faith. "Here's a guy who's won almost 300 games by pitching one way and now here's some pitching coach who's never pitched in the big leagues asking him to pitch another way," Peterson says. "You can't blame Tom for thinking it was risky. All I said was, 'Just do it for three games, Tommy. Or maybe for one. Or just for one inning. Just commit to it and let's just see what happens. If I didn't think you could do it and that it would work, I'd never ask you to do it in the first place.'

"I know Tommy's a golf fanatic, so I drove the point home with a golf analogy. I said, 'How would you like to play a round of golf with just your No. 1 wood and a putter? Wouldn't be much fun, would it? Well, think about your pitching like you do your golf game. Use all the clubs in your bag.' "

Glavine, for the first time, seriously practiced the new pitching style during his side sessions, then, a bit at a time, began using it in games and becoming more and more effective.

In mid-August, against the Pirates, after nailing an out with a cut fastball to end an inning, Glavine walked off the mound shaking his head, telling Peterson back in the dugout with a huge grin: "I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks."

Manager Willie Randolph, who staunchly defended Glavine after every bad and ugly start, told his veteran starter one day: "I just want you to know I like what I see. If you stay with it, if you trust it, you'll be fine."

Randolph says now: "I wanted to let Tommy know I was still in his corner. I knew he had the heart of a champion. I've seen him in the wars and knew he came up big in big situations. And I'm a big believer in track records. You don't win as many games as he has won without having a lot of heart and savvy. I knew he still wanted to be the best and would make the adjustments to get back to that."

He has, rebounding in a way bigger than anyone could've ever imagined after watching, if not cringing through, his horror show in the first act of this season. In 10 of his last 15 starts, Glavine has allowed just a puny two earned runs or less. He's pitched better than even Pedro Martinez over that stretch.

"I've made it harder for hitters to sit on a certain pitch or location," he says. "Before I'd be 90 percent away, 10 inside. Now I might be 50-50, or, depending on the team, 60 in and 40 away."

And at last, he's relented on pulling out all the clubs, every pitch he owns, from his bag.

"If anything happens to plan A," he says, "now I have a plan B and a plan C to fall back on and still be successful. I never had that before. Which means if you beat me one way, I have two other ways now to get you out."

Yet, because of the insanely scant run support he's received all season, especially of late, he's a less-than-mediocre-looking 10-13; he could easily have been 15-8. He experienced the same dilemma last year, when he went 7-7 in the first half despite a 2.66 ERA.

"I'm starting to develop a complex," Glavine says half-jokingly.

If he finishes below .500 in 2005, which seems more than likely, it'll be his third straight season of doing so with the Mets after all those great winning seasons with the Braves.

It's made achieving his goal of 300 career victories appear more remote than ever.>

"That's still a dream for me, I haven't given up on that at all," he insists of the 300 mark. "I feel like I can pitch two more years. Especially with the way I've pitched these last three months. I've proven to myself, which is more important than proving it to anyone else, I can still pitch. And two years could be enough to do it."

He paused, sighed.

"But I'm going to take it a year at a time," he says. "I'm confident about pitching well next year right now. That's all. If I get to (the 2007 season and he's) simply hanging on as a fifth starter, still needing 10 more wins, then I don't know if I want to continue. I'm not going to chase this thing forever."

Or until he suffers his ultimate nightmare: of being the last one to know he's cooked.