2005 NEWS

2005 News > 7/14/05

OLD FRIENDS, GLAVINE, SMOLTZ FACE OFF

By Mark Bowman, MLB.com
Original Article HERE.

NEW YORK -- When Tom Glavine last experienced something like this, he was 8 years old and facing his older brother in a youth baseball league. In the 30-plus years that have followed, he's never had a similar opportunity.

Thus, when he takes the mound at Shea Stadium on Friday night, he'll be doing more than simply hoping to help the Mets defeat their nemesis and his longtime employer. He'll be matched up against one of his best friends, John Smoltz, the only current Brave who can relate to the experiences Glavine had in Atlanta during the late 1980s.

"I don't think it's anything I ever anticipated happening," said Glavine. "But it's going to. So it's something I'm going to try to have fun with. But it's like any other situation in that it's not totally just about me and him."

Though this weekend's four-game series is important for Glavine's Mets in their quest to catch the Braves, who entered the second half leading the National League Wild Card chase, it's still hard to ignore just how special this matchup is to Atlanta and all of baseball.

"These are guys that were together more than a decade," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "But it turns into a ballgame real quick. It's not just a matchup."

Ignoring the attempts of Glavine and Cox to downplay the event, it's important to note that Smoltz and Glavine were together for 15 seasons in Atlanta. From 1988 to 2002, they were the key pieces of an organization that rose from the depths of despair to become what some consider an ongoing dynasty.

During their years together, Glavine and Smoltz combined for three Cy Young Awards and helped the Braves win 11 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and one World Series championship. On a personal level, they developed a brotherly bond and came to understand that both simply had an innate desire to win.

"Both of them are very competitive," said Jeff Francoeur, "so you know they're both going to bring their 'A' game."

Francoeur, who will be the Braves' starting right fielder on Friday night, claims that he remembers watching Smoltz and Glavine from the time he was 6 years old. Considering that the rookie outfielder, who was born in the Atlanta suburbs, was born just six months before Glavine was selected by the Braves in the 1984 Draft, it's possible.

"If we both pitched well and both got hits, there'd be a level playing field in the offseason," said Smoltz, whose first-half success earned him his seventh All-Star Game selection this year.

Whoever wins is going to likely be treated to some kind of dinner. As for the loser, he'll have to deal with the fact that at least for one night, his friend was just a little better -- or more fortunate -- than he.

"It has a different feel to it than any other pitching matchup that you might be a part of," said Glavine, who is 1-8 with an 8.81 ERA in nine career starts against the Braves.

If Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone had his way, both pitchers would fare well, and Atlanta would come away with a 1-0 victory. Considering that the two combined to win 62 percent (396-243) of their decisions while they were together in Atlanta, it's easy to see why Mazzone considers these guys two of his favorite all-time pitchers.

Another of Mazzone's all-time favorites is Greg Maddux, who, with Glavine and Smoltz, formed a trio that won seven of the eight NL Cy Young Awards handed out from 1991-98. Only one of those (Maddux's with the Cubs in 1992) came without directly benefiting the Braves.

Maddux, who claimed four consecutive Cy Young Awards, and Glavine, who earned the honor in 1991 and '98, are control-oriented pitchers who didn't have the eye-opening fastball or slider that Smoltz possessed.

Thus, Smoltz was often bothered to hear them termed "pitchers." He often thought that people simply thought his athletic skills brought him success and ignored the fact that he was capable of setting up hitters and using some mental skills.

"Playing with Tommy and Greg were two of my greatest experiences," said Smoltz. "I would say because they are known as pitchers, they hurt my chances of being known as a pitcher."

Understanding that Smoltz has always felt that way, Glavine assures that he and Maddux never thought of their comrade as anything less than them.

"I never viewed John as anything other than being every bit as good as we were," said Glavine. "In fact, a lot of times, he was as good of a big-game pitcher as we had."

Smoltz's 14 career postseason wins are the most in Major League history. But the win Atlanta will forever remember is the one provided by Glavine in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.

But now that Glavine and Maddux are gone, it's Smoltz who has become the most beloved Brave. This year, as he's made the successful conversion back to the starting rotation, more people have realized he's an enormously talented pitcher.

Now he's been given the chance to defeat a great friend, one whose own greatness might have prevented the current Brave from earning the tag sooner.

"It will be fun," said Smoltz. "But it will be business."