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Glavine Just Keeps Rolling Along

Baseball: Ageless left-hander leads major leagues with a 1.53 earned-run average.

June 16, 2002|PAUL NEWBERRY | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTA — Tom Glavine has a few flecks of gray under his cap, a few more wrinkles around the eyes.

Otherwise, he doesn't look much different than the guy who pitched the Atlanta Braves to their first World Series in 1991.

"Really, he's not all that gray," Chipper Jones said, glancing toward the locker of his 36-year-old teammate. "He must be putting some stuff in his hair."

Indeed, Glavine appears to have just been pulled from a time capsule, unaffected by the passage of the last decade or so. He's still doing what he's always done: baffling hitters with less-than-overpowering stuff, a sinker here, a changeup there.

"Actually, that's too simplistic," Glavine said. "I'm not the same pitcher I was 10 years ago. I'm not the same pitcher I was last year. But I think it's a credit that I've been able to make those changes without people noticing."

Glavine, who already has two Cy Young awards in his trophy case, is better than ever. He got to 10 wins at the earliest point of his 16-year career and stands 11-2 with a major-league leading 1.53 earned-run average heading into his start Sunday against the Boston Red Sox.

When the left-hander walks into the Hall of Fame, they should put this mantra on his plaque: He never gave in to the hitter.

"Those kind of guys are the most frustrating to face," Jones said. "As a hitter, you're taught to work ahead in the count so you can look for your pitch. But Glavine never throws your pitch. He's going to throw what he wants, when he wants, where he wants."

That philosophy--Glavine would rather walk a guy with the bases loaded than throw a pitch he might hit for a grand slam--has carried him to five 20-win seasons and a career record of 235-134.

"When he's locating and changing speeds, he's got you at his mercy," Jones said. "It sounds crazy to say that a guy who throws 86, 87 miles an hour can do that to major league hitters. But the fact of the matter is that he's perfected the art of pitching."

Glavine, who's in the final year of his contract after spending his entire career with the Braves, would like to pitch at least three more seasons, preferably in Atlanta. He's also started pondering his legacy--and that likely spot in Cooperstown.

"I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about it," Glavine said. "If I can do anything to improve my chances, that's even better."

In his last start, Glavine allowed just two hits in seven scoreless innings for an 11-0 victory over Minnesota, lowering his road ERA to an astounding 0.71.

The Twins, coincidentally, beat Glavine's Braves in the classic 1991 World Series. No one from Minnesota's championship team is still around, but Glavine just keeps rolling along -- a major reason Atlanta is on track for its 11th straight division title.

"He's so good," marveled Twins first baseman Matthew LeCroy, "the catcher never has to move his glove for a pitch."

Glavine struggled the first half of last season, leaving many to wonder if baseball's new edict on the strike zone--higher and tighter, like the rule book says--would transform him into just another pitcher.

Instead, he transformed himself.

"He's pitching now," said Greg Maddux, a teammate and fellow Cy Young winner. "He's using all of his pitches on both sides of the plate and he's mixing his pitches up better. You can't guess with him anymore."

For years, hitters complained that Glavine never threw many strikes, leaving his changeup a few inches off the outside corner but counting on the umpire to give him the call.

He needed a little time to adjust when the strike zone was squeezed.

"The umpire knows it's a ball, the hitter knows it's a ball, you can throw it there 10 more times it's already been established it's a ball," Glavine said. "I think that's what I was getting caught up in. I got overly stubborn and saying, 'Well, I'll keep throwing it there and it's going to be a strike and I'm going to get an out, because I want it to be a strike."'

The turning point came almost a year ago, in a June 18 game against Florida. Glavine was handed a 5-0 lead but couldn't hold it.

The next night, he was joined on the bench by John Smoltz, yet another of the Braves' Cy Young winners.

"Smoltzie came over and laid some things on the line for me," Glavine recalled. "He said I had given in to the strike zone or just accepted the fact that things weren't going the way I wanted them to. He said he didn't see the same fire he was used to seeing from me. Sometimes, we all need a kick in the butt."

So, Glavine changed, although the adjustments were so slight hardly anyone noticed.

No change there.

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