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Pressure Suits Mike Maddux Just Fine : Padres: A longshot to make team, pitcher twice delivers in the clutch.

April 11, 1991|BOB WOLF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN DIEGO — No, Mike Maddux isn't living a dream. It just seems that way.

For a guy who was out of a job two months ago to be the winning pitcher on opening night . . . And to come back the next night and work out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning . . . Suffice to say that the new Padre is pinching himself.

Maddux not only has come from nowhere to win a spot in the Padre bullpen; he has quickly established himself as a sort of good-luck charm. He has appeared in five games, counting exhibitions, in a San Diego uniform and has been credited with victories in three of them.

"It's amazing the way things have worked out," Maddux, 29, said before the Padres' 4-3 victory Wednesday night over the San Francisco Giants. "The fact that they gave me the ball in a heated situation was a great thing for me in the first place. The more confidence they have in a player, the more confidence the player has in himself."

The Padres and Giants were tied 4-4 in the season opener Tuesday night when Manager Greg Riddoch sent for Maddux with two out in the eighth inning. The lead run was on third base, and Matt Williams was at bat, but Maddux met the challenge. He worked the count to 1-2, then retired Williams on a ground ball.

Those four pitches were all Maddux threw, but he wound up the winner when his teammates scored three runs in their half of the eighth.

"I'm here and I'm elated," he said. "From where I sit today and from where I stood in February is quite a story."

On Wednesday, Riddoch called on Maddux with the bases loaded in the eighth inning--again to face Williams. Maddux retired him on a fly ball to right field. Maddux departed after walking Kevin Bass to lead off the ninth inning, and Craig Lefferts earned the save.

Tuesday's game was the first of two in a span of 15 hours that spread joy through the Maddux household in Las Vegas. Wednesday afternoon, Maddux's younger brother, Greg, 25, pitched the Cubs to a 2-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Chicago.

Greg Maddux has been a standout for the Cubs since 1988, having won 53 games during that period, and Mike has struggled simply to win steady employment in the major leagues. Plagued by a combination of inconsistency and arm problems, he has a lifetime record of 11-14 in one full season with the Philadelphia Phillies and parts of four others with the Phillies and Dodgers.

One might think that being overshadowed by his kid brother would be tough to swallow, but Mike said, "I'm just glad he's had success. He's never had an injury, and he's made himself an outstanding pitcher."

Although Mike's first two victories came in spring training, they weren't unimportant. The manner in which he achieved them impressed Riddoch.

"I think he's a pretty talented guy," Riddoch said. "He had pitched well in two minor-league games, and one day we needed a pitcher. Each time this situation came up, they would send us somebody who could compete. We liked what we saw in him the first time he pitched for us, and he wound up making the team."

Details of the job application that a desperate Maddux submitted to Padre General Manager Joe McIlvaine have been well documented. On Feb. 22, Maddux approached McIlvaine at a luncheon in Las Vegas and asked for a tryout.

McIlvaine was aware that Maddux had undergone two elbow operations and had been released by the Dodgers last year, but figured he and the Padres had nothing to lose by taking a look.

"I never thought my career was over," Maddux said. "The way I was throwing in the off-season after my second surgery convinced me that I'd get a job eventually. There was no way some club wouldn't be hurting for pitching.

"During February, my attorney made a lot of calls for me. He contacted each team, and I don't know what their answers were. They asked why we didn't start calling two months earlier."

By an interesting coincidence, Maddux made his exhibition debut with the Padres in Yuma against his brother's team. By a stranger one, his brother wasn't there that day. Greg was pitching in a B game at the Cubs' camp in Mesa.

"I knew Greg wasn't making the trip," Mike said. "We faced one another by proxy."

There have been two occasions, though, when the Maddux brothers were the opposing starters in Chicago-Philadelphia games. Greg won their first meeting, Mike their second.

Some brother acts--Phil and Joe Niekro for one--have expressed dislike for the idea of pitching against each other. Not the Madduxes--not Mike, anyway.

"It's kind of fun," Mike said. "The only time you really take notice of your brother is when he comes to the plate. When Andre Dawson or Mike Schmidt stepped up, brother against brother was the farthest thing from our minds."

Whereas Mike Maddux attended Texas El Paso for three years before turning pro, Greg skipped college. Greg was drafted in the second round out of high school, and Mike had to wait until the 36th round, when the Cincinnati Reds picked him. Three years later, Mike moved up to the fifth round.

"I urged Greg to sign," Mike said. "I'd been in the game a couple of years, and from my experience I figured that was his best bet."

Now that Riddoch has used Mike Maddux with a game on the line in his first two appearances as a Padre, would this become a regular thing?

"Not necessarily," Riddoch said. "We've got some guys (Lefferts and Larry Andersen) who aren't quite ready to go full tilt, so we have to do it by committee. It could be the other way around next time."

Whichever way he is used, Maddux will have no complaints.

"It's Cinderella story," he said. "I'm just making sure I'm home by midnight every night."

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