2006 NEWS

2006 News > 10/6/06


By Mike Vaccaro, NY Post

BILLY WAGNER could sense this would be a little different commute right away, from the moment his car-pool partner, Tom Glavine, slammed the door on the passenger side. All across their 25-mile journey from Connecticut to Flushing, the Mets' closer found himself playing a far different role than he's accustomed to playing while sitting alongside the Mets' ace.

"For a change, I couldn't get a word in," Wagner said with a smile, a victory chaw filling his lower lip, maybe half an hour after the Mets had seized control of their first-round playoff series with a decisive 4-1 win over the Dodgers. "I'll tell you what, it was good to see that I wasn't the only guy so nervous that he wanted to puke. Tom wouldn't shut up. I knew he was nervous, too."

Glavine was nervous, and he'd been nervous ever since Wednesday, when he'd officially joined his teammates on the field for pregame introductions and officially revisited a month that used to be such a regular part of his annual itinerary. The questions started as soon as the car pulled onto I-95, continued as it turned onto the Hutch, kept coming as it merged onto the Whitestone Expressway.

"I had a hundred different questions for Wags," Glavine said. "I wanted to know how he was feeling. I wanted to know what it's like to never have an easy save."

When the chops started getting busted and the jibes started flying, that's when Wagner really knew his neighbor would be OK. And Wags fired back with one of his own: "Just pitch the way I used to watch you pitch," Wagner quipped, "back when I was growing up."

It worked, and worked so well that Glavine didn't just pitch well, he pitched magnificently. Maybe he will never again have a night as graced by magic and excellence as the night he threw eight innings of one-hit, shutout ball at the Cleveland Indians, back in 1995, on the night when he pitched the city of Atlanta to its one and only professional championship.

But this was awfully close. Six innings, 94 pitches, four hits, zero runs. After a week when it seemed the rest of his brethren on the pitching staff were being led away from October on gurneys, less than two months after his fingers turned cold and numb and he was forced to face the possibility of a life without baseball, Glavine reached back to yesterday and did everything but throw on a vintage Braves jersey.

Instead, he simply slipped October back onto his shoulders, and it fit as comfortably as an old smoking jacket.

"Tonight," he said, "was as relaxed as I've been all year long," and that was evident from the first pitch he threw to Rafael Furcal all the way to the last, a slick change-up that Russell Martin pounded into the ground toward shortstop. Martin was seen shaking his head as he disappeared into the Dodgers dugout.

"He's made a lot of guys talk to themselves over the years," Dodgers manager Grady Little said.

It was an especially timely evening for Glavine to turn in his most unforgettable nights as a Met. Earlier in the day, the Yankees had asked Mike Mussina to do essentially the same job the Mets needed Glavine to do. They needed Mussina to muffle the Tigers, to bully them, to muscle them aside. They needed Mussina to be the equal of the $88 million they gave him five ring-free years ago. And Mussina couldn't do that.

But Glavine could. And Glavine did.

"What can you say?" Willie Randolph asked with a shrug and a smile. "He was superb."

He was a craftsman on a pitcher's mound, every inch the artist, and it sent 57,029 people into spasms of delight. Glavine hasn't always heard those roars. His very first day as a Met, Opening Day 2003, he lasted only 32/3 innings against the Cubs, a game the Mets lost 15-2, and it was a terrible indoctrination into what he'd have to endure, a penance preceding renaissance.

"It's been a long time," he said. "It felt good to be in the postseason again."

The Mets, and Shea Stadium, were just as happy to have him back. Maybe even moreso.