In spring training of 1989, Glavine was standing in the outfield during batting practice. A ball rolled toward him. He bent, picked it up...and somehow his fingers landed differently on the ball. The middle and ring fingers were along the seams. The circle on the side was exaggerated, the tip of the index finger on top of the thumbnail. Glavine threw the ball into the infield. Voila! A career was born.
"Throwing that way just seemed natural to me," he says. "I don't know why, but from that first throw the pitch was natural. I started throwing it that day."
The key to the changeup is being able to throw it with the same arm speed that a fastball is thrown but with reduced velocity on the ball—not dramatically reduced, but a speed at which the ball reaches the plate just late enough to foul up a normal swing at an anticipated fastball. This was the pitch, the two-seam circle change, that Glavine now had. He went 14-8 in 1989, slumped a bit to 10-12 in '90, when he forgot the lessons of the change, and then went back to relying heavily on it as he rolled to a 20-11 record last year. He estimates that he throws the pitch as many as 40 times a game now, often on 3 and 2 or 3 and 1, when other pitchers never think about it. The circle change has made the rest of his repertoire work.
"If I hadn't found that pitch, picked up the ball that way...I don't know," Glavine says. "Maybe I would have found some other pitch. I don't know. I'm just glad I found it."
On the good nights, when everything is working, he is almost unhittable. You see him in a game like the one he had last Friday night in Atlanta against the Cubs and he is pulling strings as if he were working the Muppets. A 3-0 five-hitter on 107 pitches. A no-hitter couldn't have been much more impressive.
Even when he is struggling—one pitch not working, maybe two—he survives. The attitude. The battler. He uses that same approach with his hitting and is doing so well at the plate (.271 as of Sunday) that manager Bobby Cox sometimes sacrifices runners to second in front of him.
Is there anything else? Well, he is getting married in November. He has bought and decorated a new, four-bedroom house outside Atlanta. And at the end of this season, his fifth full year in the majors, the Braves either must sign him to one of those long-term, high-money deals or sign him for one year and risk losing him as a free agent after the '93 season.
"I played hockey," Glavine says. "In January. With the Boston Bruins."
The day was arranged by his agent, Bob Woolf. The aftershock of winning the Cy Young—the banquets, the interviews, the attention—had begun to be a burden. The hockey was designed to be a relief. On a weekday morning Glavine skated with the Bruins during a workout at Boston Garden.