2006 NEWS

2006 News > 6/4/06

CHANGEUP KEY FOR GLAVINE

By Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe
Original Article HERE.

The time clock in his head tells him it's over after next season.

There are children to raise, golf to play, getaways at Lake Winnipesaukee to look forward to. It's 300 wins and out. Unless something inside of him won't let him quit. Maybe that same thing that won't let Roger Clemens leave the game.

"I don't envision myself playing beyond next year," said Mets lefthander Tom Glavine after his start against the Giants was rained out Friday night. "That's right now. Other than winning another championship, [300 wins] is the last thing I want to accomplish in the game.

"It would be 20 years for me, and I never expected that. My family has sacrificed enough with all the traveling, and I need to be home and be a full-time dad and husband.

"That's right now," he added. "Who knows? Maybe I'm kidding myself. Maybe if I'm pitching like I am now, it would be hard to walk away."

At 40 years old, 17 wins away from 300, Glavine says he might be pitching better than he ever has. He's 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA (6-0 in his last six starts). Heading into last night, he had pitched six or more innings in 26 straight starts.

At midseason last year, he knew he had to change or 300 wasn't going to happen. For years Glavine lived on the outside corner. He was a master at widening the plate and the strike zone.

Then came QuesTec, a computerized system developed by Major League Baseball that tracks balls and strikes. Suddenly the plate shrank and Glavine had to adjust. In his first three years in New York, he went 33-41, but since midseason last year, Glavine has been the best pitcher in baseball.

While it was once shocking to see an inside pitch from Glavine, now it's commonplace. After years of learning his craft with Leo Mazzone in Atlanta, his new pitching coach, Rick Peterson, got Glavine into video work, studying hitters and their tendencies.

"I had to start changing my patterns," Glavine said. "I wasn't comfortable at all on the mound. I had to get comfortable first and repeat good mechanics over and over again. I had to pitch differently than what the scouting reports were saying about me. It's just adjusting."

Can you name a more consistent pitcher in the last 19 years? Who since 1990 has averaged 33 starts per season? Name one starter who has missed only two starts since August 1987 (one because Glavine cracked a rib and the other because he had some teeth knocked out in a cab accident in New York). Name one who has never been on the disabled list.

Beyond Glavine, it's difficult to see where another lefthander will win 300 games. Unless Randy Johnson (270) pitches two more years, it won't be him. David Wells (227 wins) says this is it for him. You would have to project a Mark Mulder pitching until he's 40, or Scott Kazmir of the Devil Rays or Johan Santana of the Twins having long careers. But, realistically, will they be as durable as Glavine?

Or are we seeing the last lefthanded 300-game winner for decades to come?

"It's hard to say never," said Glavine who is also hitting .353 (6 for 17) and owns the major league record with 196 sacrifice bunts. "Nineteen years ago, nobody pointed at me and said, `He's going to win 300.' You just never know.

"Earlier in my career, the bullpens were used differently than they are now. Guys don't stay in games to get the win. It just seems it's become harder to stay healthier."

His plan following retirement is to take an entire year off. After that, he's intrigued by broadcasting or coaching, and as much as he'd love to play golf professionally, he knows it's unrealistic.

Maybe he never got to skate for the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted him in the fourth round in 1984; maybe he never got to pitch for the Red Sox, his hometown team; maybe he didn't get to spend his entire career with the Braves. But he got to win a championship, a World Series MVP, and two Cy Youngs. And he has been a 20-game winner five times.

Glavine made his debut on Aug. 17, 1987 , taking the spot of Doyle Alexander, who had been traded by Atlanta to Detroit for John Smoltz. He allowed 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings, but manager Bobby Cox kept trotting him out there to take his licks. And he got better fast.

His crowning moment came on Oct. 28, 1995, when he beat the Indians, 1-0, in Game 6 of the World Series with eight shutout innings to give Atlanta its first championship. He had a 1.61 ERA in four postseason starts.

And, yes, right now he thinks he's pitching better than that.