He is so obsessed with decoding a hitter—right down to how he might change his approach to the batter with two strikes in a late-inning pressure situation—that "when you go into a game with a certain plan and you execute it and it works, you walk away feeling like you've won, even if you didn't win the game," he says. "Stuff like that, to me, that's what pitching is all about. Pitching is the art of messing up a hitter's timing, of outguessing the hitter."
From an elevated tee, Maddux confronts his nemesis: the dread 17th hole, a 186-yard par-3 with only afoot or two of fringe on the left side between the green and the water. The right side is guarded by large, deep bunkers with which Maddux has become familiar. This time he boldly strikes a five-iron toward the left side of the green, and the ball lands pin high, about 12 feet away. He raps home another putt logo two under
Maddux's pitching delivery is a marvel of compactness and efficiency, especially from the moment he pulls the ball out of his glove. Most pitchers, seeking maximum velocity, extend their throwing arms straight back, giving rise to the "reaching back for something extra" cliché. Maddux, as if throwing inside a phone booth, smoothly bends his arm behind him into an inverted L, always keeping his hand on top of the ball. When he raises his arm into throwing position, he concentrates on forming another L, this time right side up.
"I could probably throw harder if I wanted," he says, "but why? When they're in a jam, a lot of pitchers, especially young pitchers, try to throw harder. Me, I try to locate better. Maybe I'll move the ball three inches more off the outside corner."
The foundation of his success is his ability to run his fastball and changeup away from righthanded hitters. At the same time, he is known to pitch inside more than any other pitcher. He is particularly effective inside against lefthanders. Maddux is one of the few righthanded pitchers who can start a fastball at a lefthander's hands and bring it back over the inside corner for a called strike. In recent years he has added a cut fastball that has slightly less velocity but more movement, boring in on a lefthander with bat-breaking bite.
"He's like a meticulous surgeon in there," says five-time National League batting champ Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres, who has a .444 lifetime average against Maddux. "Most guys are afraid to pitch inside because if you make a mistake there, you're going to get hurt big-time. But he puts the ball where he wants to. And that cutter can be a nightmare for me. You see a pitch inside and you wonder. Is it the fastball or the cutter? That's where he's got you."
It's his mastery of his pitches that allows Maddux to be so cunning. To say he has five pitches (fastball, cut fastball, slider, curve and change) is to say New England weather has four seasons. The permutations of speed and location on those five pitches are maddingly diverse.
"Maddux is the one pitcher with whom, if you can get out of there with a l-for-4 game, you think you've done something," Jefferies says. "He's so tough because he doesn't pitch to a pattern. Most pitchers, you can tell in certain-situations what they're going to throw. I've been 2 and 0 against him and seen changeups, cutters and a fastball right down the middle. So all you can do is react against him."
Maddux has gotten the best of even Gwynn in recent years. "Early in my career he threw me fastballs running away; he was pitching to my strength," says Gwynn. "I got fat early against him. The last couple of years, he's turned it around completely by throwing me more changeups and more cutters. The difference in him the last three years is that everything he throws has great movement.
"Last year we opened against the Braves, and the day before we faced Maddux, we had a hitters' meeting. So I say, 'He's not going to waste a single pitch. If it's 0 and 2, he's going to try to put you away. You've got to protect both sides of the plate. You can't sit dead-red [wait for a fastball] on any count. With runners in scoring position, he's going to turn it up a notch." After hearing that, some of the younger guys were shocked to see him. They thought he was a 6'3", 205-pound guy who threw 95 miles per hour. Tim Hyers sat next to me on the bench and said. 'I thought he was a god who came down from the mountain with Zeus. He's just a little guy who knows how to pitch.' "