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The lunch-pail magician

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

CHICAGO – On the day he won his 300th game, Tom Glavine spent the afternoon chugging Pedialyte and the evening huffing an ammonia-soaked towel. The humidity here could have stifled a marathoner, and Glavine did not want to suffer the heat exhaustion that felled his New York Mets teammate Luis Castillo. Not everyone's path to immortality is lined with roses and showered with bubbly.

No, in Glavine's case, it was just another 6 1/3 innings of sweaty work, his tools mainly a fastball and changeup. Clock in, clock out, the lunch-pail magician whose unanswered mystery is how such simplicity begets such brilliance.

"It wasn't a dazzling performance in terms of striking people out," Glavine said Sunday night after he became baseball's 23rd pitcher to win 300 with the Mets' 8-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. "It was an exercise in hitting my spots and changing speeds and letting the guys behind me do their work, which they did."

The night was classic Glavine, and not only because the left-hander's fastball never crept past 87 mph. Of his 102 pitches, 90 were fastballs and changeups. For the 351st time in his 659 starts, he lasted between six and seven innings. And Sunday marked game No. 30 in which Glavine struck out one batter or none and still won, the second-most such of his era behind Kirk Rueter.

Glavine's career began in 1987, six years before Rueter's, and has lasted two years longer, and that longevity, more than his 10 All-Star teams and five 20-win seasons and two Cy Young awards and zero trips to the disabled list, is Glavine's greatest testament. If, in fact, he is baseball's last 300-game winner, he will have done so on guile as much as stuff, a marvel to the intangible and statistical communities.

"I'm not saying that I want to be the last one, because I'd love for somebody else out there today that's pitching to have this feeling and have this sense of accomplishment in their career," Glavine said. "I wish everybody could."

That was all the reflecting the 41-year-old Glavine wished to do Sunday, his achievement capping a weekend teeming with them. Barry Bonds hit home run No. 755, tying Hank Aaron, and a new all-time record is one swing away. Should he stay healthy, Alex Rodriguez, who hit the 500th homer of his short career, will make mincemeat of Bonds' record in six or seven years.

When trying to predict the next 300-game winner – can Mike Mussina, 38, hang on to win 54 more, and what's the most important number for C.C. Sabathia: his age (27), his victories (95) or his weight (listed 290, probably more)? – let's remember that no one believed a 6-foot, 200-pound soft-tosser out of Billerica, Mass., ever could join such a list.

Himself included.

Which is why Glavine spent most of Sunday trying to work through the jitters. Even now, after all the playoff games, Glavine's stomach turns to Jiffy Pop. He hadn't gotten much sleep Saturday night, with two sick kids keeping him and his wife Christine awake, and then came the issue of prolonging the voyage for the 30-person traveling party of family and friends.

"The nerves are OK, and when it's time to go to work, you've just got to trust yourself," Glavine said. "Ultimately, when it's time to go out there and get going, trust the work you've put in and the preparation you've put in."

In the minutes leading up to the first pitch, Glavine sat in the dugout and chewed his gum, the only cool cucumber amid the 41,599 overheating inside Wrigley. On his way out to the mound in the bottom of the first, Glavine plucked the ball off the ground, flipped it with nonchalance into his glove and marked his territory on the mound with his right foot by digging a hole in front of the mound.

His catcher, Paul Lo Duca, who had missed the previous six games with an injury, spent 30 minutes before the game begging into the lineup. Manager Willie Randolph relented, and so began Glavine's evening, with Lo Duca's asking for a changeup.

Glavine labored through the first three innings, needing 56 pitches to keep the Cubs scoreless. He felt drained and knew the fourth inning called for efficiency. Glavine escaped in seven pitches: an 85-mph fastball, five 84-mph fastballs and a 77-mph change.

Though the Cubs touched him for a run on two doubles in the sixth inning, by then the Mets had scored five runs. After an Angel Pagan double in the seventh, Randolph marched to the pitcher's mound, greeted Glavine with a high five and asked for the ball.

"He said he was pretty much on fumes," Randolph said. "But he gave us what he could. And at the end I told him I wanted him to go out there and be able to walk off the field and get his ovation."

And he did. The whole stadium stood and clapped. More flashbulbs danced when Kerry Wood made his first appearance in a year in the seventh inning, and louder cheers echoed when Jacque Jones drove in Pagan to end Glavine's night officially, two earned runs to his name. But the respect for Glavine – for who he is and what he accomplished and how he did it – was poignant.

All of it led to the denouement: Mets closer Billy Wagner finishing the game on an easy ground ball to second baseman Ruben Gotay. Almost an hour later, Wagner still needed to steady himself as he wrote a check to the clubhouse attendants. "I'm so shaky," he said. And Gotay, just 24, marveled at his place in history.

"It's going to be repeated on TV for a long time," he said. "Who knows how long?"

Forever, of course, and Glavine needed to capture the moment one last time. He wriggled free of everybody and snaked down the dank hall in Wrigley toward the field. A security guard warned over the radio that Glavine was coming.

By then, all the Mets fans chanting "Tom-my Gla-vine" had left to finish their celebration elsewhere. It was just Christine, whose tear ducts had calmed down, and the rest of the family.

"Everybody line up," Christine said. "Group picture."

The photographer squeezed them in tight.

"Hold up three, everybody," Christina said, flashing her index, middle and ring fingers. The sign for the changeup, Glavine's money pitch, and the symbol for 300.

After a few clicks, Glavine sighed. He needed to change and catch the Mets' bus. They were headed to Atlanta for their season's weightiest games.

"Come on down the tunnel," Glavine said. "We've got champagne."

The path to immortality had not been luxurious, not for Tom Glavine. No one ever said anything about what happened after he made it there.

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