2006 NEWS

2006 News > 5/23/06


By Murray Chass, NY Times
Original Article HERE.

JIM DUQUETTE, who was a Mets executive when they signed pitcher Tom Glavine as a free agent, was talking about Glavine one day last week and remarked, with awe and appreciation, "How often do you see a guy remake himself in the middle of the season?"

Not often, if at all, but Glavine, who is now 40, remade himself last summer, and the new Glavine continues to dazzle. Since the 2005 All-Star Game, he has the second-lowest earned run average among starting pitchers, 2.32, slightly higher than Johan Santana's 2.19.

If this were a reality makeover television show, the left-handed Glavine would have soaring ratings.

There were times during his first two and a half seasons with the Mets that I felt Glavine had made a mistake signing with them. Had he stayed with Atlanta, where he recorded 242 victories in 16 years, I thought he would be much closer to the 300-victory circle he coveted.

The lack of support he was receiving from the Mets' offense and the bullpen was retarding his advance toward 300 enough that he may never get there, I suspected.

And then came Rick Peterson. Now Glavine has 282 victories, after winning 7 of his first 10 starts in 2006, and should he continue at that pace, he would finish the season needing only two victories to reach 300. A third Cy Young award may not be far behind. The Hall of Fame would await only his retirement.

Peterson, the Mets' pitching coach, sat in the dugout after Glavine's seventh victory Sunday night and talked at length about the intriguing midseason makeover.

Glavine, Peterson explained, had made his living inducing batters to swing at pitches off the plate because umpires were calling those pitches strikes.

"If you're getting five, six inches off the plate, no hitter in baseball could cover that," Peterson said. "There was no need to pitch to both sides of the plate."

But a few years ago, Major League Baseball installed QuesTec, a computerized system of tracking balls and strikes. Those wide strikes disappeared, and with them went Glavine's dominance.

In his first 15 starts last season, Glavine had a 4-7 record and a 5.06 E.R.A. He was headed for his third losing record in three seasons with the Mets after 12 consecutive winning seasons with Atlanta, including five in which he won at least 20 games. Peterson could not sit by and watch it happen.

"We had long conversations that paralleled his game regarding golf," Peterson said, "because Tommy's an avid golfer. He's actually played a round of golf with Tiger Woods. One of the things I brought up to Tommy was how Tiger Woods won the Masters by 12 strokes and immediately afterward recognized that he needed a new swing.

"I said: 'You've pitched like you've had two clubs in your bag. You've got a bunch of clubs that are great clubs that you know how to use and you just haven't used.' Tommy had a curveball, he could cut his fastball, he could throw a slider, he had two different fastballs, he had two effective changeups, he could change speeds on his changeups."

Like all pitchers, Glavine stubbornly refused to change. Then he was battered in a game in Seattle last June 19.

"On the flight back from Seattle, we had a long talk in the back of the plane," Peterson related. "Tommy," Peterson said he told him, "now is the time to commit yourself to this change. I know it's tough for you to change. Let's give it four or five games. Let's see what happens. I know what's going to happen."

In his next start, against the Yankees, Peterson said, "he made the transition and beat them."

"From that game on," Peterson added, "it was a total commitment."

Glavine's transformation involves two aspects: preparation and pitching.

"He never prepared for opposing hitters," Peterson said, "because he threw fastballs and changeups down and away. It didn't matter who the hitter was. That's what he was going to do. Now he studies film and looks at about 45 minutes to an hour of the opposing lineup before he faces them. His preparation has been tremendous."

In the pitching part of it, Glavine throws to both sides of the plate, whether the batter is left-handed or right-handed.

"When he made that transition in his game," Peterson said, "you could see hitters going back to the dugout talking to their people, almost like, 'I thought this was going to be away and his pitches are inside.' Now the preparation for the other team had to totally flip because this is not the same game."

Glavine's makeover has produced an ancillary benefit. He is striking out more batters. Before this season he averaged 5.35 strikeouts per nine innings. This season he has 51 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings, or 7.03 per nine.

"By pitching to both sides of the plate," Peterson explained, "he's getting a lot of swings and misses where maybe the hitter is looking on the outside corner and he throws a fastball or changeup or cutter inside."

The midseason makeover has injected a new enthusiasm into Glavine's career.

"He looks forward to going in and looking at film and preparing for a game," Peterson said. "He looks forward to talking about the game plan. That's why I have the utmost respect for Tommy. He's not only a Hall of Fame pitcher; he's a Hall of Fame person."