2006 NEWS

2006 News > 6/29/06


By Paul White, USA Today
Original Article HERE.

Tom Glavine has played out the scenario in his mind for what he would like to hear after this, his 20th major league season: "Come on, Dad, go do it."

"And I'll say, 'No problem,' " says Glavine, back on top of the pitching world at 40. An overhauled approach to his craft has win No. 300 in his sights.

The left-hander leads the major leagues with 11 victories for a New York Mets team that is baseball's only runaway division leader and is probably headed to his 10th All-Star Game. He is set to pitch tonight at Boston.

Factor in that his four children are old enough to appreciate Dad's impending place in history, and Glavine stands a good chance of getting the answer he craves.

He's 14 victories from 300, the magic number that makes induction at Cooperstown all but a formality. Of the 22 pitchers who have preceded him to 300, 20 are in the Hall of Fame. For the other two, Houston Astro Roger Clemens and Chicago Cub Greg Maddux, it's just a matter of retiring.

Glavine, who is 11-2 and hasn't lost since April 24, admits 300 was a fading dream for most of his previous three seasons with the Mets and even as late as this spring.

He gave himself "an outside chance" shortly after he joined the Mets in 2003 as a free agent with 242 victories for the only team he had known, the Atlanta Braves.

Glavine hadn't won fewer than 13 games in any season in Atlanta since 1990. But with 9-14, 11-14 and 13-13 records with the Mets, Glavine realized victory No. 300 likely would not come until 2008, if at all. His run support those seasons: 3.41, 4.21 and 4.12 a game.

"It seemed so far away, and I wasn't pitching well," says Glavine, who won the Cy Young Award at 25 and 32. "Once I got inside 20 (wins from 300), thinking about it became a little bit easier."

That happened May 16 at St. Louis with the fourth of nine consecutive victories. His run support this year: 5.5 a game.

"He's throwing inside, changing speeds and setting up his bread-and-butter pitch, the changeup on the outside corner," says former Braves teammate Chipper Jones. "Right now, he's the best starter in the National League."

With good health and continued support from a strong Mets team, Glavine could be on track to reach 300 next season. "We seem to have a knack for winning a lot of ways," he says, "coming back, winning one-run games."

Glavine is pitching well because he realized halfway through last season that what had worked since 1987 was no longer good enough.

"My natural reaction was, 'I was successful for 17 years this way. Who says I can't?' " he says. " 'Surely, when I fix my mechanics, I'll be all right.' "

But Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson had a more drastic solution: "Erase the scouting report."

"We tried to make it where, when a hitter stands in the box against me, he's not eliminating a pitch or a part of the plate," Glavine says. "For 16 years, they did that. And I didn't care. I was going to out-execute them."

Glavine had been a willing disciple of Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone: Keep the ball down and away, change speeds, command the fastball on the outside edge of the plate. To many opponents, Glavine and then-teammate Maddux were masters of pitching and getting strikes beyond the outside edge.

"If you listen to some people," Glavine says, "you'd think I spent 17 years in the major leagues and never threw a strike."

When Glavine beat Baltimore on June 18 for his 10th victory, Mazzone watched from the other dugout. In his first year as Orioles pitching coach, Mazzone saw changes from the Glavine he coached.

"He uses both sides of the plate more," Mazzone says. "He didn't really change any pitches, but he had to change location. He went (inside) a couple of times when he was behind in the count. He didn't have to do that before. Let's face it, the strike zone's not the same."

Partly because of a tighter strike zone and the normal effects of age, Glavine knew changes were needed. "All of the sudden, I had to learn to expand the plate up and down. We learned how to pitch expanding the strike zone east and west. That's the way they called it, so why not?"

But he was stubborn at first.

"I'd rather walk a guy than let him hit a home run," he says. "That mentality hurt me. It took away some of my aggressiveness. I was trying to avoid contact. That's not a good way to pitch."

That's the same stubbornness encountered by Peterson, who eventually tapped into Glavine's passion for golf to get past the resistance. Peterson noted how Tiger Woods won The Masters by 12 strokes in 1997 and then decided to rework his swing.

The results for Glavine were measurable. He had a 6-7 record and 4.94 ERA before last year's All-Star break. He was only 7-6 after the break but his ERA was 2.22. The scouting report had been erased.

Glavine is averaging 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings this season, compared with 4.5 and 4.6 the past two years. "Popping batters inside has changed him around," says Braves manager Bobby Cox. "He's nothing but precision, and he's really hard to hit."

Changing his game at 40 "wasn't the easiest thing to come to grips with," Glavine says. "But it was a matter of survival."

It also was an indication Glavine didn't believe he was finished. "If it was about me pitching just last year and being done, I wouldn't have" made the changes.

That's what brings the family factor into play, especially because Glavine and the Mets aren't completely committed for next season.

"It's not just about me anymore," Glavine says of three sons and a daughter between ages 5 and 11. "They're older now. They're having to make more sacrifices. Family is first and foremost."

Wife Christine and the kids are "entrenched in Atlanta," Glavine says. They shuttle back and forth to his in-season home in Greenwich, Conn., especially after school is out, and Glavine makes more than a few quick trips to Atlanta on days off.

Glavine and the Mets agreed in May to restructure his contract, reducing his 2006 salary from $10.5 million to $7.5 million but adding 2007 as an option year for both. The Mets' option is worth $12.5 million or $14.5 million should Glavine pitch 180 innings this season. Glavine's option is worth $5.5 million but increases $1 million each at 180, 190 and 200 innings.

"Right now, we're going to let it play out," says Mets general manager Omar Minaya. "But I told him, 'I want you to be here when you get to 300.' "

Glavine says he will determine that after the season: "I don't feel comfortable saying for sure it's going to be in New York."

But he does sound like he could be comfortable with his chances as a Met. "It's hard to look at this team," Glavine says, "and not think it's going to improve."