Maddux misses milestone, but takes one for team

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

PHOENIX – His 350th win would come some other day. That much was clear a couple of dozen pitches in.

So, Greg Maddux simply held onto the baseball as long as he could.

Nearing the end of a career that will stand with some of the finest, still holding down a job in one of the proficient rotations in the game, and knocking down innings and wins at 42 years old, Maddux on Friday night here did the only honorable thing.

With no choice but to throw himself on the game in order to save his teammates, Maddux found 113 pitches in that old arm, more than he'd thrown in a start in 2½ years. The last time he'd thrown significantly more pitches – 121 – was eight years ago.

Seventeen hours and seven pitchers after the San Diego Padres finished their 22-inning game against the Colorado Rockies (14 innings by relievers), Maddux took the ball with an opportunity for a milestone victory, one reached by only eight others, most recently Roger Clemens. A long, solid start – granted, against a team that bewilders him – would also heal a spent bullpen.

And, yet, after 11 pitches (all fastballs), the Arizona Diamondbacks had two runs. After 17 pitches, they had three. After 23 pitches, still in the first inning, they had six.

At that point, there were only 23 more outs to get.

"You gotta wear it," Maddux said, "until they come and get you."

Despite a fastball that was unreliable until the middle innings, and while probably knowing deep inside the Padres don't have near the offense to make up six runs, Maddux wouldn't be called back until he finished the seventh, the score by then every bit of 9-0.

Hey, in a six-month season, when the trainers' room is suddenly full and the gaits unnatural, a few extra pitches can save a week. So, rather than win No. 350, Maddux took loss No. 215, 30th all-time and first – 15 more than Tom Glavine – among active players.

He is likely to reach 350 on Wednesday, when he faces the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park. In 50 career starts against the Giants, many of those San Francisco teams better than this one, Maddux is 29-14 with a 2.86 ERA. The only team he's beaten more often is the New York Mets.

For the moment, it'll have to be good enough to know that the moxie and sensibilities that got him all those wins over 23-plus seasons were not entirely wasted here.

For a while there, you wondered how much of this Padres manager Bud Black would allow Maddux to wear.

Six relievers pitched the night before in San Diego.

And, probably, Maddux was going to insist on punishing himself after the first two innings.

But, as a general rule, managers don't leave their Hall of Famers out there to be humiliated.

"I thought about that after they got the six runs," Black said. "Yeah, that crossed my mind. But, here again, he knew what was at stake for the team. From the second inning on, he made pitches."

He had to. He really did.

A few hours before game time, the Padres looked a little like they'd been poured off the back of a flat-bed truck, stacked like equipment bags, wheeled into the clubhouse and dumped in front of the television set, where "Scarface" ran at near full volume.

They'd gone those 22 innings over more than six hours the night (and morning) before, thrown 338 pitches, scraped together a total of 11 hits (10 singles) and collapsed into their beds around 4:30 a.m.

They had lost 2-1 on a couple of final-inning errors.

"When you go 22 innings and give up one earned run," catcher Josh Bard pointed out, "I think you should win."

Well, when you've gone 94 innings without a home run, as the Padres had through Friday morning (make it 103 by Friday night), chances are you're going to lose your share of 22-inning games.

In fact, Bard insisted, the Padres were really, really close to winning that game.

"It was just one of those deals," he said earnestly, "we ran out of innings."

Had that game gone 27, 28, 43 innings, who knows what would have happened.

The Rockies dragged their butts all the way to Houston, lost two hours on the clock, got in some lunch and put up six in the first on the Astros. The Padres, meanwhile, consider six runs a pretty decent series, and here drew Dan Haren on top of it.

Gleefully, the Diamondbacks took to the theme and scored those six in the first off Maddux, who pitched to 11 Diamondbacks and threw 34 pitches in the first inning alone.

A sign in the crowd was hoisted: "Mr. Maddux, who's your Padre now?"

True enough, Maddux is 2-11 against the Diamondbacks, 1-7 with a 6.02 ERA at Chase Field. But, he chooses not to recognize such things. He will retire someday, perhaps this October, with career wins somewhere in the vicinity of Warren Spahn, the lefty who won 363 games and stands sixth all-time. Maddux will retire with the admiration of all the batters he faced, and all the pitchers he mentored, and all the observers who marveled at what a man could do with a routine fastball standing beside an extraordinary changeup, both launched from a brilliant mind.

"I don't know when the next time you'll see anything like this," Jake Peavy said, speaking specifically of the potential for 350 and broadly for the body of work. "Look at this game today. I don't know."

Four hours later, Maddux, still reddened from exertion, took no satisfaction in any of it. His fastball ran high in the zone for a couple innings. The Diamondbacks didn't need to be asked twice. The Padres lost again. And, even though they managed only three hits and were done for eight innings, it was Maddux who wore the defeat. He shook his head, grimaced at the thought of all those fat fastballs, No. 350 the furthest thing from his mind.

He went seven innings. So what, he said. So what.

"It wasn't important," he said. "It was important to pitch good."

He knew better. They all did.