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1992 News > Pinch Hitting

TOM COMES THROUGH IN A PINCH (LITERALLY)

By Tony Fabrizio, The Augusta Chronicle

You see, it isn't enough that he has won his last 13 decisions, that he kept a frightening bullpen out of harm's way seven times by going the distance (with five shutouts), that he has established himself as the favorite for a second consecutive NL Cy Young Award.

Tom Glavine is occasionally asked by the Atlanta Braves to . . . uh, pinch hit.

I don't mean pinch hit in the bottom of the 16th inning after every position player and the bullpen coach and No. 2 waterboy have been used and there's nobody else left. I mean pinch hit.

Such a time came Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves were down 5-2 going into the bottom of the sixth and the No. 9 spot was due up. Manager Nobby Cox looked down his bench and saw an All-Star (Ron Gant) and a guy who hit three home runs in the 1991 World Series (Lonnie Smith), among others.

He called on Glavine, whose .254 batting average includes a double, a triple, 10 runs and a half-dozen RBI.

Yes, Glavine, who, to a crowd's delight, snaked a single up the middle.

"I guess if Tommy breaks a leg sliding into second, somebody calls that a dumb managing decision," said catcher Greg Olson. "But you don't think about something like that happening, and I know Tommy doesn't. He's a competitor and he wants to help us win any way he can."

Said Cox, whose strategy was to save his position players for double-switch options and the like later in the game, "Tommy's an athlete and we'll use him in that situation once in a while."

Tonight against Montreal, the competitor and the athlete goes for No. 20.

No Atlanta Brave has ever won 20 this early. Phil Niekro reached the plateau earliest for Atlanta--that on Sept. 9 in his 23-win season of 1969.

In fact, no one in the National League has won 20 this early since 1985, when Joaquin Andujar got his 20th on Aug. 23 for the Cardinals and Dwight Gooden got his on the 25th for the New York Mets.

"I'd like to get it right away if, for no other reason, so it doesn't become something that hangs over my head," said Glavine (19-3, 2.48), who last year won his 19th on Sept. 18 and didn't get his 20th until Oct. 2.

Winning his 20th right away would do something else for Glavine--leave him position to win 25, which no Atlanta player has ever done and no player in Braves franchise history has done since Dick Rudolph in 1914. For the record, only six pitchers in the major leagues have won 25 since 1972--Steve Carlton (27) for Philadelphia in 1972, Catfish Hunter (25) for Oakland in 1974, Fergie Jenkins (25) for Texas in 1974, Ron Guidry (25) for the New York Yankees in 1978, Steve Stone (25) for Baltimore in 1980 and Bob Welch (27) for Oakland in 1990.

"We don't treat Tommy with kid gloves, and that's good," Olson said. "We don't treat any of our pitchers that way. These guys want to get out there in the dirt and fight with you, and that's one reason we are where we are."

No doubt it's one reason why Glavine will command the moon as a free agent after the 1993 season if the Braves don't sign him to a long-term contract beforehand.

Good pinch hitters don't come cheaply.