2007 NEWS

2007 News > 6/21/07


By Ben Shpigel, NY Times
Original Article HERE.

Andy Van Slyke batted .354 in 65 career at-bats, including the postseason, against Tom Glavine. But he says he believes he had only one hit off him, a home run in the 1991 National League Championship Series.

ďI called him the Illusionist,Ē recalled Van Slyke, the Tigersí hitting coach, in a recent interview. ďI thought there was no way that a pitcher could throw so many pitches on the corners. I didnít think they were at the time, but when I looked back at the tape, there they were, perfect.Ē

With little margin for error, Glavine has lived on those corners for the better part of his 21 exceptional major league seasons. But there is nothing perfect about him, or his team, these days. The Mets have lost 14 of their last 18 games, a free fall that is threatening to redefine their season. It has coincided with Glavine allowing the most runs he ever has over two consecutive starts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, which raises concerns over how much of that illusion Glavine has left.

At age 41 and needing 5 victories to reach 300, Glavine understands the burden he carries heading into tonightís start against Oakland. For their own state of mind, the Mets need him to pitch well and help them win. If he cannot help revive a floundering team, the Metsí sense of who they are may continue to unravel.

ďIt makes me mad and embarrasses me,Ē Glavine said of his last two starts. ďBut I donít take away anything from my long-term belief that Iíll fix it and Iíll be fine and continue on my way.Ē

Without a victory in his past five starts, Glavine understands that he is judged by results, and an 0-4 record with a 7.31 earned run average in that stretch does not inspire much confidence. But he notes that he was 5-3 with a 3.36 E.R.A. before the disasters against Detroit and the Yankees. If he were told that for the rest of the season he would allow two or three runs over six or seven innings in each of his starts, Glavine would take his chances. Because that is what he did for the first three starts of his most recent five-game stretch, when he was victimized by poor run support and opposed by accomplished pitchers like John Smoltz, Barry Zito and Jamie Moyer. It is only the last two starts that have created this nervous sense of anticipation for tonightís game.

ďFrom my parentsí standpoint, their big thing, which Iíve never forgotten and I use it with my kids, is that you go to that game with a smile on your face and you better come out of that game with a smile on your face regardless of what happens,Ē Glavine had said before his last two starts.

ďIn a strange way, even today it kind of helps me keep things in perspective. At the end of the day, itís a game and you go out there and you do the best you can. Some days itís good and some days itís not. Good or bad, you deal with it.Ē

Dealing with the good and the bad has become as much a part of his tenure with the Mets as his familiar No. 47. At some point during every season, for a few starts Glavine struggles, and every time he has made adjustments. In response to a shaky start to the 2005 season, Glavine worked with the Metsí pitching coach, Rick Peterson, to resurrect his curveball and to incorporate more inside pitches into his game plan.

Last year, he was not pleased with how he was pitching around the All-Star Game break, when he did not have a victory over seven starts. But he recovered to throw 16 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason. That, in short, is why he is not worried now.

He has not watched video of his last two starts, against the Tigers and the Yankees, nor does he plan to. Nothing to be gained from that, he said. The only way to correct his problems is on a mound and during his bullpen sessions this week.

Glavine said he had fixed a few mechanical issues. He would not divulge what they were, but he indicated that he had been displeased recently with his location. He has not spotted his fastball on the inside corner, which has resulted in a reluctance to throw his other pitches there, too.

ďI think Iíve reached another point where itís time to start thinking about the next adjustment I want to make,Ē Glavine said. ďNothing major. Subtle, little things. But more than anything else, I have to get back to locating my pitches. I can talk about patterns and sequences all I want. But if I canít locate, then you can throw those sequences out the window.Ē

Stacked lineups are particularly prone to hammering a pitcherís mistakes, and the Tigers and the Yankees scored a combined 16 runs in eight and a third innings off him. But the Tigers and the Yankees have done that to many teams and many pitchers this season. So why should Glavineís struggles be magnified?

The answer is a number, plain and simple: 300. Glavine entered this season needing 10 victories to reach that milestone, and he has been halfway there since May 19.

At each stop on a road trip, reporters from out of town quiz him on the accomplishment, and Glavine, an accommodating player, has obliged every time. But as the no-decisions and losses have piled up, and as his team has struggled, Glavine, by his standards, has grown increasingly weary of discussing an achievement that seems like a luxury. Eventually, he knows, he will get there. Just not any time soon.

ďIím sure people are waiting for a little bit of a crack to see whether Iím frustrated,Ē Glavine said. ďAnd Iíve been pretty upfront about saying that Iím frustrated. Of course I am. What I get paid to do is go out there and win games. And as much as that means me getting to 300 wins, it also means us having a good year. And that is what I want, too. At this rate, trying to win a game ó 300 seems so far away ó is the kind of thing that Iím more and more resigned myself to. If itís meant to be, itíll be. Thereís nothing thatís going to change that.Ē

The greater urgency, for Glavine and the Mets, is to return to the form they displayed in their first 50 games. The Mets will try for their fifth victory of the month tonight, Glavine for his sixth of the season. They both need it.