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Control Freak : Atlanta Brave Pitcher Greg Maddux Paints the Plate on His Way to Probable Fourth Cy Young Award

October 02, 1995|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Greg Maddux has a full plate. Boy, does he.

No major league pitcher has a plate that full. Maybe no pitcher ever.

"This is the way I see it," San Diego Padre hitting instructor Merv Rettenmund was saying about the Atlanta Braves' ace.

"We talk about successful pitchers using the inside inch of the plate and the outside inch and forgetting about the middle 15," Rettenmund said.

"Maddux refines that. He uses a half inch inside and a half inch outside and forgets the middle 16.

"You may find guys with a better fastball or breaking ball, but when it comes to location, movement and pitch selection, he's the best I've seen.

"I mean, he gets guys out like Jim Palmer did--without sweating."

No sweat?

"Hitting against Greg Maddux reminds me of a Nintendo game that you can never finish before it crashes down on you," Colorado right fielder Larry Walker said. "He leaves you looking and feeling stupid.

"People like to say he's not that intimidating, that he doesn't have a fastball like Randy Johnson or his curve doesn't break like someone else's, but he's intimidating and dominating in the same sense because he has such control and movement, and he changes speeds so well.

"You can't outguess him. It's as if the mound is his castle and we're strictly visitors in his world."

In a time of expansion-diluted pitching and inflated earned-run averages, Maddux is in a world of his own.

He approaches the playoffs with a 19-2 record and 21 consecutive scoreless innings, but that's only the start.

His statistics are straight out of the dead ball era, but he is throwing what many believe to be a juiced ball off a mound five inches lower than that of the 1960s and earlier.

Said Dodger pitching coach Dave Wallace: "Sandy Koufax was the best pitcher I ever saw, but I have to believe that Maddux ranks with any of the great pitchers you can name."

Comparisons aren't what Maddux is about, but this is how good he is, how good he has been.

"There were very few nights when I had trouble putting pitches where I wanted them this year," Maddux said the other day. "Of course, when you have the caliber of players behind you that we do, it makes it look easy."

Said Brave pitching coach Leo Mazzone: "What we've seen in a period of about 900 innings over the last four years is some of the greatest pitching ever."

Who can argue?

--Already the winner of an unprecedented three consecutive Cy Young awards and about to make it four, Maddux is the first pitcher since Walter Johnson in 1918-19 to have earned-run averages of less than 1.80 in consecutive seasons.

--It was 1.63 this year and 1.56 last year, when the National League average was 4.21, the differential between his ERA and that average being the largest in modern history. The 1995 average going into the final day of the season was 4.17, meaning Maddux almost broke his own record.

--He has led the league in ERA for three consecutive years, his 1.56 of 1994 being the third-best since 1919. The last pitcher to lead his league in ERAs for three consecutive years was Roger Clemens, starting in 1990. The last to do it in the National League was Koufax, who began a five-year run in 1962.

In addition, the 29-year-old right-hander has not forgotten how to win. He is 150-93 in his career and 75-29 over the last four years, a span in which he has pitched home games in the hitter havens of Wrigley Field and Fulton County Stadium.

His .905 winning percentage this year is the highest ever for a pitcher with 20 or more decisions, and he has won 18 consecutive road decisions, a major league record, dating from July 2, 1994. His ERA in that 20-game span in which he is 18-0: an almost incomprehensible 0.99.

This year, he led the league in victories, ERA, complete games (10, for the second year in a row), percentage and fewest walks per nine innings: one. He also pitched 200 or more innings for the eighth consecutive year and was third in strikeouts while restricting opposing hitters to a .197 average, second to Hideo Nomo's .182.

His best year?

"I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't happy with it," Maddux said.

Better than the strike-abbreviated 1994?

"I'm not sure," Maddux said. "Last year never ended for me. It just stopped. But this year's record is pretty good in anybody's book.

"I'm very happy with the complete games. It shows more than anything I was consistent."

Said Manager Bobby Cox: "I'm out of adjectives when it comes to Mr. Maddux. We're all spoiled. He's been so good for so long that we think he should never lose a game. It's human nature."

How does he do it? How does a guy barely 6 feet and 175 pounds, who wears glasses off the field and seldom registers more than 85 m.p.h. with his fastball and who was mistaken for the batboy by then-Manager Gene Michael when he first joined the Cubs, dominate hitters so easily?

"I could probably throw harder," Maddux said, "but what's the point? It's all about timing. It's all about outguessing the hitter and messing up his timing. You need to change speeds and locate the fastball."

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