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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Winning made difficult for veteran lefty

By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- To say Tom Glavine has been on a long, crazy journey to career win No. 300 is putting it delicately, and perhaps not even accurately. Glavine's midsummer agenda is stacked with other business, including fixing his slightly out-of-synch mechanics, navigating the Mets out of their recent slump, and, like everyone else at Shea, waiting for Pedro Martinez to return so he can once again become the Mets' billboard of talent, charm and vanity.

Pedro is tentatively scheduled to set foot in Flushing in early August -- as good as new, he promises, or maybe even better. Despite being on the disabled list with a surgically repaired shoulder, Martinez boasted to reporters last month he's already throwing harder than Roger Clemens.

Tom Glavine
Tom Glavine is four wins shy of 300 in his career.
After watching one of the Rocket's minor league starts on TV, Martinez said, "Without a doubt, I can do that and probably even better at this point. I can probably throw as hard, maybe harder. I feel like I'm in better condition."

True or not (we're figuring probably not), Pedro's homecoming will nevertheless relieve some of Glavine's burden. As the Mets' de facto ace, the 41-year-old left-hander has been a model of cool, calm efficiency, clearly more durable than Orlando Hernandez, the rotation's other veteran. But it'd be a stretch to say Glavine is sprinting toward that 300th win. He's getting there, but not without some frustration.

In fact, when Glavine beat the A's Friday to reach No. 296, it was his first victory since May 19. The lefty lost that precious feel for his changeup during interleague play in June, leaving him vulnerable against the heavy-hitting Tigers and Yankees. In those two starts, Glavine allowed 16 earned runs and 19 hits in just 8 1/3 innings.

Coincidence or not, Glavine struggled just as the Mets were on the verge of collapse. Before sweeping the A's over the weekend, they'd lost 14 of 16 games, all but squandering their once-untouchable lead over the Phillies and Braves. A dogfight now looms in the NL East, and the Mets have shown signs of strain: Willie Randolph admitted on Tuesday that at the height of the slump, when the Mets were getting swept by the Dodgers, he threw a chair in the manager's office, breaking the door.

The Mets have since regained their equilibrium -- the sweep of Oakland was followed by Shawn Green's walk-off home run in the 11th inning, which gave the Mets a 3-2 win over the Cardinals on Monday night -- but they'll need a more productive July from Glavine. Struggling to stay over .500 and to keep his ERA under 4.00, Glavine concedes his problems have been more mental than physical, especially during Pedro's absence.

"If I am the so-called No. 1 guy, and your No. 1 guy is not winning," he said, "then that kind of has a little bit of a reverberation throughout the team."

Despite his experience and self-awareness on the mound, Glavine is human enough to press during slumps. It's not exactly panic -- Glavine is too mature for that -- but he finds himself trying to throw too hard. Trouble is, Glavine has been cursed with a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s, so the only result of overthrowing is his fastball gets stripped of its movement and location. Without those assets, Glavine's changeup suffers, too, meaning he's practically naked against aggressive, swing-for-the-planets lineups.

It's only when Glavine is harnessing his velocity that he's most effective. Indeed, he says, "I throw 90, 95 percent. I very seldom throw 100 percent effort. It's comfortable for me, and I know where the ball is going."

When he's in sync, Glavine is a textbook example of the three ways a pitcher can defeat a hitter: in and out (working the corners), up and down (changing a hitter's eye level) and back and forth (changing speeds). The only big-city component missing is the look-at-me quality that makes Pedro so special to the Mets -- and so antagonistic to opponents.

If I am the so-called No. 1 guy, and your No. 1 guy is not winning, then that kind of has a little bit of a reverberation throughout the team.

Tom Glavine

Love him or hate him (and the world seems split right down the middle), Martinez has that unique personality the Mets have missed this year. When the Phillies had closed to within a game and a half last week, Billy Wagner said, "What's killing us is we don't have that energy on the field or in the clubhouse. Not even Glavine, the way he carries himself, does that. With Pedro, it's like his charisma rubs off on people. It's like, 'Yeah, Pedro's pitching today.' We could use that."

Obviously, Wagner meant no disrespect toward Glavine, who's headed to the Hall of Fame. And win No. 300 will eventually be in the books -- if not as soon as Glavine had originally intended, then soon enough. But you get the feeling Glavine doesn't entirely disagree with Wagner's assessment. He could use a break from the endless questions about win totals and history making and an ace's responsibility.

Better to leave it to the man whose need for oxygen and attention run neck and neck, although Glavine phrased it a little more diplomatically.

"I think his coming back here is going to take pressure off a lot of people because he's going to be the center of attention," the left-hander said.

That's what Pedro does best. What's not to love?

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.