2006 NEWS

2006 News > 4/3/06

GLAVINE GETS BETTER WITH AGE

By John Delcos, Daily Record

NEW YORK -- Wine connoisseur Steve Trachsel was amused by the question, that if Tom Glavine were a wine, what kind would he be.

Bold, in he's not afraid to challenge a hitter inside.

Sassy, in he's still a tease on the outside corner.

Smooth, in nothing rattles him.

"He would definitely be French," Trachsel said. "Most of their wines age better and age longer."

Forty-year-old wines bring a premium, not so much that aged pitchers.

However, if there is to be October vintage champagne, a big year is needed from Glavine, who is making his seventh Opening Day start, including third with the Mets, today against the Washington Nationals at Shea Stadium.

"Yes there's some of that," he said of the additional pressure to carry the Mets considering their pitching concerns. "I'm aware of what's expected."

One through five in the rotation, there's not a Met starter without an issue next his name.

Pedro Martinez has a bum toe and expects to feel it all summer. Glavine is 40, an age most pitchers are either on a golf course or in a television booth. Trachsel is coming off back surgery. Victor Zambrano is so-so with a tight hamstring.

Brian Bannister is still waiting to throw his first major league pitch.

"Tom Glavine is the ultimate professional," said Mets general manager Omar Minaya. "He's here not just to help our younger pitchers, but because he's still a very good pitcher."

Glavine enters the season 25 victories shy of 300, and owner Fred Wilpon said he hopes he's a Met when it happens. Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz, who portrayed Glavine in an unflattering light in his book, understands his former pitcher's anger and said the door is open to his return.

Glavine isn't thinking that far ahead.

Unless he's injured, he'll get 300.

"I'm not going to get this close and walk away," he said. "I want to help this team win, and if we do, I'll win my share of games."

Where he punches the guaranteed ticket to Cooperstown isn't on his radar.

"That's too far ahead to think about," Glavine said. "I'm just thinking about this season. That's all I can control."

If there's a word defining Glavine's essence as a pitcher, it is control, both around the plate and with his composure.

Glavine was 13-13 last season, but with a stronger bullpen and more offensive support, could have won another three or four games.

The Mets lost 18 of his 33 starts, a staggering number suggesting a rapid downhill slide. However, 12 were by three or fewer runs, important considering Glavine's 3.53 ERA.

Another key number is he walked two or less in 23 of his starts, and in 12 of 15 after the All-Star break when he won seven games.

"He's a craftsman, a surgeon," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa. "He can carve you up."

Of course, Glavine said the expected, that he's also pitched lousy and won. He's never been a finger-pointer and searches for answers instead of excuses.

"A total professional who everybody respects," said Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds. "No matter what happens, he never complains. He's a competitor. He's the kind of guy you want on your team."

Glavine never overpowered hitters with a fastball, but with guile and control. Pitching is making continuous adjustments and Glavine is usually a step ahead. He said one of the biggest changes in pitching during his career has been the mentality of the hitters.

They are thinking home run and often swing for the fences on the first pitch, which plays into what he wants to do.

"You start pitching like it is 0-and-2 the minute the guy steps in there," Glavine said. "You want to use the hitter's aggressiveness against him."

If a hitter jumps at the first pitch, Glavine teases him out of his reach. If the hitter's reputation is to take the first pitch, he knows he's ahead in the count before the at-bat begins.

Hitters adjust, too, and when Glavine lived too much on the outside corner with his fastball and change-up, they started to crowd the plate more because they weren't worried inside. It was now Glavine's turn and he's challenging hitters more inside with his curveball and a fastball that over the last five years has gotten quicker with less wear on his shoulder after reducing his rotator cuff exercises between starts.

"You're always making adjustments and working on things in this game," Glavine said. "If you take things for granted you can get humbled real quick. I have a lot of pride. I don't want to go out there and embarrass myself."