2007 NEWS

2007 News > 7/29/07

GLAVINE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A THINKING MAN'S PITCHER

By Bob Klapisch, The Record

As Barry Bonds is assured of everlasting infamy, it's easy to overlook baseball's other brush with history, the one Tom Glavine has kept syringe-free from Day One. The Mets' left-hander is on the verge of winning his 300th game, which is an elite-caliber achievement on its own. But Glavine is crashing the record books without a 90-mph fastball, reason enough to put the steroid vigil on hold and honor his resume.

Actually, Glavine is a purist's dream, conquering hitters for parts of three decades without overpowering a single one. He's living proof that baseball -- and pitching in particular -- is a thinking man's game. No left-hander gets into a hitter's head as successfully or as often as Glavine, outguessing them, controlling their bat speed, robbing them of their most precious weapon: confidence.

Hitting, after all, is all about timing and comfort, and nothing makes a batter more uncomfortable than a ball that moves late and unpredictably. Glavine does this by changing speeds and never throwing to the same area in the strike zone twice in a row. It takes extraordinary discipline and maturity to pitch this way; so many hurlers are consumed with the radar gun, jacked up by a macho, power-versus-power war with today's supersized hitters. But not Glavine.

He's known all along he could never match John Smoltz and Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson for sheer intimidation. As Glavine himself said the other day at Shea, "You're not going to be wowed by anything [I throw], but if you look at my numbers at the end, you're going to say, 'He had a great year.' "

This is just one more in a long line of successful summers. Glavine, 9-6 with a 4.51 ERA, isn't quite the pitcher who won two Cy Young awards in the '90s, but he still has enough magic to have kept the Braves' and Phillies' averages against him this year to .239 and .265, respectively.

Somehow, you know Glavine will be pitching big games for the Mets in September. With or without Pedro Martinez, they'll need his composure down the stretch.

That, and the illusion of his best pitch, the change-up. Ask any hitter and they'll tell you that trying to square up on Glavine is like trying to catch a butterfly with your hands. As Orlando Hernandez put it: "If you stand up there looking for his change, his fastball looks like it's 95 mph. And we know Tom doesn't throw 95."

That's why Glavine is such a hero to kids who can't throw hard. Without embarrassment, he soft-tosses that change-up in the mid-70s, then delivers an 84-mph heater you'd swear was fired out of a cannon. If you accept the axiom that a pitcher has three ways to defeat a hitter, Glavine is a master of each: in and out (using both sides of the plate), up and down (changing the hitter's eye level), back and forth (changing speeds).

All Glavine's done with his modest talent is earn a future ticket to the Hall of Fame. He's about to become only the fifth left-hander in history to win 300, and likely will be the last to reach this mark for at least a decade, now that Randy Johnson, stuck at 284, is about to undergo another back surgery. Glavine, by contrast, is a billboard of durability, never having been on the disabled list.

At a time when the home run champion is about to cheat his way to all-world status, Glavine's achievement is worth openly celebrating. Yet, Willie Randolph was inexplicably unenthusiastic about Glavine's body of work when discussing it with reporters last week.

"You guys are probably making a bigger deal of it than it is," the manager said. "In the clubhouse, I haven't heard anybody talk about it. Guys don't talk about it. It's a big deal for Tommy, but in the clubhouse, I don't think guys are really thinking about it that much."

Randolph might've thought he was doing Glavine a favor, muting the hype that accompanies historic achievements. Just look at the carnival that's swallowed up Bonds during the Giants' current homestand. Still, Randolph should know better than to think the Mets aren't intensely rooting for Glavine. He's mature, professional, levelheaded, a near-guarantee to pitch well when it counts.

It goes without saying Glavine will finish his career without ever embarrassing his employers. And unlike Bonds, we'll never have to look for the syringe.