2007 NEWS

2007 News > 7/26/07

HE'S A PRIMO PITCHER, BUT DOES HIS BEST WORK AS A TEAMMATE

ByJon Harper, NY Daily News

The emotional fist pump that accompanied the double-play ground ball to end the first inning was something more typical of Tiger Woods than Tom Glavine. But then it's not every night you pitch yourself to within one win of immortality.

For the normally understated Glavine, it was a sign of just how badly he wanted this one.

He had been embarrassed, after all, last week in Los Angeles when he couldn't hold leads of 6-0 and 9-4. Glavine doesn't want this pursuit of 300 wins to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, and if he couldn't beat the Pirates at home last night, well, he would suddenly look very old.

So when the Pirates loaded the bases in the first inning last night, he turned to the pitch that has made him a future Hall of Famer, and got Xavier Nady to roll over on a 2-and-1 changeup for a double play that he said was the most important pitch of the night.

The fist pump was something else.

"Yeah, after I did it I had to remind myself, 'It's only the first inning,'" Glavine said with a laugh. "It's always big to get out of the first inning like that, but it's bigger for me right now because of my personal situation."

His situation means that history is at hand. He'll go for No.300 in Milwaukee next week, after gutting his way through six innings last night in a 6-3 victory over the Pirates and his 299th career win.

On any night this was big news. Three hundred wins don't necessarily need any context to be appreciated, especially considering that after Glavine and perhaps Randy Johnson reach the milestone, it could be more than a decade before another pitcher even gets close.

Yet in Glavine's case, it's impossible not to notice the circumstances and timing that make this particularly appealing.

Indeed, in a rather sickening week to be a sports fan, a week when Barry Bonds' tainted chase of the home run record plays like a Disney movie compared to the dogfighting and game-fixing scandals plaguing football and basketball, Glavine setting the stage for 300 is something of a godsend for anyone who cares about sports.

He's one of the good guys in baseball, always has been, and if ever there was a time to celebrate that often inconsequential detail, as it applies to wins and losses, it is now.

"People should feel good about what he's doing," said Billy Wagner, who earned the save last night, "just because he's a guy who will do anything for his team. For me, being part of helping him get 300 is going to be a bigger achievement than anything I could have achieved by myself."

That's how Glavine's teammates feel about him, and if it's not sexy enough to get him on that dopey "Who's Now?" popularity contest that ESPN is using to fill air time these days, it should make fans feel good about rooting for him.

David Wright, for example, calls him "the definition of a professional" and says that no one did more than Glavine to make him feel comfortable when he came up to the big leagues a few years ago as a 21-year old rookie.

That's why Wright has plans to get his hands on one of the game balls used on the night Glavine wins his 300th, and have the future Hall of Famer sign it for him.

"He's going to be part of history," Wright says. "And it couldn't happen to a better guy or a better teammate."

History, of course, will remember Glavine as a Brave, not a Met, but that shouldn't diminish the celebration for his 300th. Together with the millions of dollars the Mets have spent on free agents, Glavine has helped change the culture of a losing clubhouse, and, who knows, he may be part of a championship club here this season.

We'll see about that, but it seems likely that he will retire after this season, partly because he doesn't want to be away from his wife and young sons in Atlanta, and partly because he holds himself to a certain standard on the mound that he's not sure he can pitch to consistently anymore.

He needs to be better than his last couple of starts if the Mets are going to win in October, but there is plenty of time for that.

Everyone around him just hopes he can win No. 300 in his first try, and he is recognized for carrying himself the way we wish everybody in sports would.

"It's funny," said Wagner. "When he was with the Braves, you kind of looked at him as a prima donna, just because they won all the time and you were kind of envious. Then you get to know him, see how dedicated he is because he wants to be great, and you realize you're lucky to be a part of this."

Great pitcher, good guy. It's something to appreciate more than ever these days.