2006 NEWS

2006 News > 10/5/06


By Jason Stark, ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- He's the last ace standing.

No more Pedro. No more El Duque. And nobody has spotted Tom Seaver lately, either, come to think of it.

But Tom Glavine goes on and on.

He hasn't come down with that runaway Flushing affliction, Mad Calf Disease. He keeps forgetting to have Tommy John surgery. He still hasn't learned how to tear his labrum, rotator cuff, MCL, ACL or left pinky fingernail.

So Thursday night, in his first start of his 12th journey through October, Tom Glavine actually made it to the mound -- and did what aces do.

He spun off six shutout innings against a Dodgers team that led the league in hitting. He let one runner pass second base. His only two walks were pitch-around classics.

And that's why Glavine was the story of the Mets' 4-1 win in Game 2 of a National League Division Series that his team now leads, two games to zilch.

"When you think of big-time playoff pitchers," Mets third baseman David Wright said, "you think of Tom Glavine. And tonight was no different."

Yeah, it was no different, all right -- except for the fact that everything about it was different.

It was Glavine's 33rd career postseason start -- but his first in this uniform, with the letters N and Y on his cap.

And the supporting cast that surrounds him now -- that's really different.

A pitcher with eight career wins (John Maine) started before him in this series. It will be the eminently undependable Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez starting the two games after him.

As Glavine's special October co-stars go, let's just say nobody is going to mix up this group with Maddux, Smoltz and Avery.

So as much as all those Braves teams needed him to do his thing all those other Octobers, no staff he's been on has ever needed him more than this one. Which might explain why Glavine uttered a word Thursday that no one has ever heard him utter -- the "N" word.

"You know," he said, "I was pretty nervous and anxious all day long."

Nervous? Anxious? Heck, we didn't even know the guy had sweat glands before this. He may not always have been great on this big October stage. But nervous? He always looked about as nervous as a guy sipping daiquiris at a Maui beach bar.

So when he sprung this blockbuster N-word revelation on Billy Wagner Thursday afternoon, as the two of them were driving in to Shea Stadium from Connecticut, it was all Wagner could do to avoid careening off the road in shock.

"I never knew he got nervous," Wagner said after his second save of this series. "Back when I used to watch him in these games on TV, he never looked nervous. He always looked like the calmest guy in the stadium when he used to pitch against my teams.

"So when he told me how nerve-wracking it was, I was actually relieved. It was good to hear somebody else in here was as nervous as me."

These men he plays with now know exactly what Glavine represents. He's their human time capsule.

They can barely remember a time when October rolled around and he wasn't pitching. He was in that 1958 Braves rotation with Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, right? And, of course, with Phil Niekro and Pascual Perez back in the '82 playoffs.

"If he wasn't," Cliff Floyd said with a laugh, "it seems like it. I know I've always watched October baseball when I'm not playing in it. And it seems like every time I've ever watched, he was playing."

"Yeah," Wagner said, "like I always tell him, it was great watching him as a boy growing up."

Well, Tom Glavine is 40 now. And what he did Thursday is something only two other 40-year-olds have ever done this time of year: pitch at least six innings in a postseason game and give up zero runs. Dennis Martinez did that in 1995. The immortal Freddie Fitzsimmons did it in 1941. And that was the whole list.

Until Glavine took the mound Thursday night.

He was 12 hitters into his evening's work before he even allowed his first hit (an infield single by Nomar Garciaparra with one out in the fourth inning). And only twice all night did he ever seem to be in any serious danger.

But with two men on in the fourth, he sneaked an 88 mph fastball past J.D. Drew for a strikeout that helped him wriggle out of that jam. Then, an inning later, with the tying run on third, he pitched around Rafael Furcal to get to Kenny Lofton (who was 0 for his entire life against Glavine). Then he carved Lofton's bat in half, got a bouncer to second base and survived that little scare.

Meanwhile, the Mets kept manufacturing a run here, a run there, until they had ground out four of them -- only one of which was even scored on a hit. And that was enough to hand Glavine his 13th career postseason win, the third-most of any pitcher in history. Only John Smoltz (15) and Andy Pettitte (14) have more.

But the last of those postseason wins before this one came five years ago, in the 2001 NLCS. Then, the following October, Glavine got hammered twice by the Giants in his final postseason as a Brave (0-2 in two starts, allowing 13 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings). So the wait to get back to this mound, in the big October theater, seemed longer than an NHL regular season.

"I'm well aware of what my last postseason was like," Glavine said. "And it certainly isn't something I'm proud of or happy about. But it happened, and there's not a lot I can do about it now, obviously. I just was in a position where I obviously wanted to try to get back to the postseason again and try and do better, and have more fun, and have a better experience."

So once he arrived at the ballpark Thursday, he tossed his clothes and his nerves into his locker, then kicked back and did his best to enjoy the moment.

"I think his poise and his demeanor really helps this team," said Wagner, his friend and locker room neighbor. "I think when guys come in and see him sitting around on the couch in here, joking around and giving guys a hard time, that rubs off. They see what a big-game pitcher looks like. He's able to go out and relax and enjoy the moment."

You wouldn't think he'd have much left to prove to anybody anymore. Not after all these years and all these wins. Not after Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, the night he spun off eight innings of one-hit shutout brilliance to lift the Braves to the only championship they managed to win in the '90s.

But Glavine knows that not everyone thinks he came up big enough for all those Braves teams, even though his lifetime October record (13-15, 3.47 ERA) looks a whole lot more scenic than, say, Andy Ashby's.

"Looking back over my postseason career, I'll be the first to sit here and tell you I probably had four or five games that were awful," Glavine said. "But the rest of them have been pretty good, to the point where at least I've gone out there and given my team a chance to win.

"I think it's a lot less about what I have or haven't done in my career in the postseason, and much more about now. I understand the opportunity that's in front of me. I understand the expectations on this team, and certainly on me as a player."

So Glavine comprehended precisely what this win meant, to him and to everyone around him. But that wasn't the only reason he was savoring it.

A month and a half ago, you'll recall, it wasn't Pedro or El Duque the Mets were thinking they'd lost for their run through October. It was Glavine, a man who had just been diagnosed with a blood clot in an artery near his shoulder.

There were a couple of harrowing days where no one knew if this was minor or major, season-threatening or career-threatening. A "scare," Glavine called it Thursday.

"You worry," he said, "about what it means for the rest of your career. But certainly, in the short term, I was worried about not being able to take part in this. I mean, this is what I wanted to be a part of."

But when the tests came back, they revealed his condition wasn't serious, or even new. He missed just one start, in fact. And now here he is, back in another October -- and he's the last ace standing.

"For him to go out there and do what he did tonight," Wright said, "I think that was a statement -- a statement that even though some of our big guys on the mound are hurting, we can still win, and we still have pretty good pitching."

Well, they may not be the '63 Dodgers, the '71 Orioles or even the '91 Braves. But they still have Tom Glavine. And given all the madness that has gone on around him, that's a sight that has never looked better to any team.