2006 NEWS

2006 News > 5/18/06


By Don Burke, The Star Ledger

ST. LOUIS -- A year ago, Tom Glavine was available.

Not that the Mets would have traded him. But the mouth-breathing first-and-longers who clog the sports-talk a irwaves with their hallucinogenic fantasies would have dealt the struggling Glavine in a heartbeat.

He was just 20-28 in his first two seasons in Flushing and, after starting the 2005 season with losses in four of his first five decisions, the left-hander was the team's designated pitcher non grata.

Back then, even Victor Zambrano got more of a pass than Glavine.

"He's old. He's finished," went the prevailing 50,000-watt sentiment.

"He's not a Met. He never was."

"We never wanted him. What a waste of money."

"We should have A) traded for Barry Zito; B) kept Scott Kazmir; C) scared Doc Gooden straight or D) brought Tom Seaver out of retirement."

You name it, they spewed it.

Sure is quiet out there these days, huh?

With his fourth consecutive victory here Tuesday night, against the powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals, Glavine was tied with Arizona's Brandon Webb for the league lead in victories with six.

His 2.43 ERA was the sixth best in the majors as play began last night, and since last year's All-Star break, Glavine has a 2.30 ERA, which ranks among the lowest in baseball over that span.

"There's a lot of satisfaction," Glavine said. "Not so much from the standpoint of revenge or vindication or anything like that. I just knew that I wasn't done.

"Even when I was struggling at the beginning of last year, I was pretty confident that I wasn't struggling for the reasons everybody thought I was. I said all along I felt good. My stuff was there. I just wasn't making pitches. I was very adamant about that.

"So, from that standpoint, it feels very good to be able to turn things around because what I knew in my mind was true -- that it was just a matter of making pitches. Not to say that was the sole reason. I've made some changes in my game obviously."

At age 40, Glavine has clearly reinvented himself. Forever known as a changeup-sinker specialist who made his living on the outside corner -- and, as hitters are quick to point out -- a few inches beyond it, Glavine has reintroduced a long dormant curveball into his repertoire.

Perhaps more significantly, he began pitching inside, something he had rarely done previously. It gives hitters, so used to seeing the old Glavine, something else to look for and, thus far, they seem to be having a difficult time adjusting to it.

"He is more of a pitcher now than he was probably in his prime," teammate Pedro Martinez said. "He was just fastball-changeup, and that's why I admired him so much to be able to do the job he was doing for so long and so consistently with just a fastball and changeup. And pitching away, away, away and that was primarily it.

"Now he pitches in and out, he back-doors, he throws a breaking ball. He's changed a great deal from last year. He's the master at pitching and his mind is way above his game. That's what makes him so special. He's so smart. ... Think about making such a turnaround as a pitcher."

Old dog. New tricks.

"It's much harder now for a batter to stand in the batter's box and know what I'm going to do," Glavine said. "Before, they knew what I was going to do and, like I said for many years, I didn't care that they knew. 'Fine, you know what I'm doing and I know what I'm doing and I'm going to do it better than you're going to do what you're going to do.' And it worked.

"But the older you get and the game has changed -- the strike zone and all that stuff. Those are things I have to make adjustments to. It took me a while to come to the realization that I needed to make those adjustments. It also takes a while to become comfortable making them."

But now Glavine, with 281 career victories, appears as comfortable as a Johnny Mathis CD. And the Mets have taken notice.

Even before the season began, the team approached Glavine about restructuring his contract, which was due to expire at season's end. In exchange for deferring $3 million of his $10.5-million salary for this season until 2007, the Mets have added an $11 million option for next season.

"It gives us the flexibility to do some things, go out and get some players if we need them, and that's fine," Glavine said. "I'm all for that. And I know that there's some value for the Mets and me, for that matter, if I'm able to win 300 games and do it in New York. There's plusses in it for everybody.

"But, in the end, they feel comfortable in what I'm doing and in my ability to do it beyond this year."

And a year ago, who would have thought that?