Glavine and Maddux established their low-and-away strikes with such precision throughout the 1990s that they became the pitchers most identified with the squashing of the strike zone—it became shorter and wider (wider, many said, than the plate). Baseball officials vowed in '99 to return the zone to the width of the plate. "I didn't handle it well," Glavine says. "I went out there anticipating changes rather than reacting to them. I wound up creating problems for myself." That season Glavine had a 4.12 ERA, his worst since 1990, and gave up a major-league-high 259 hits. He rebounded with a 20-win season in 2000, a year, he says, when strike-zone reform and rhetoric abated. Vigorous enforcement of the zone returned last year, however. "When they did it in '99, they did it for a while and then got away from it," Glavine says. "Last year they really seemed to be conscious of it all season."
Flustered again by the crackdown, Glavine pitched poorly. On June 18, 2001, the Braves gave him a 5-0 lead in the first inning against the Florida Marlins. Glavine gave it all back, surrendering two runs in the second and three more in the third. Though Glavine didn't get the decision, the Braves lost 7-6, and he left the game with a 6-5 record, a bloated 5.12 ERA and an alarming lack of confidence for someone pitching coach Leo Mazzone calls "the strongest-minded individual I've ever been around. If you had to pick one guy to compare him to, it would be Whitey Ford."
The Braves like to tell the story of Glavine's bravado in the clinching game of the 1995 World Series, when he beat the Cleveland Indians 1-0 while allowing one hit over eight innings. The game was scoreless in the middle of the fifth when Glavine marched into the dugout and screamed, "C'mon! Let's get a run! Because I know they sure as hell aren't getting any."
Mazzone turned to Cox and said. "Did you just hear that?" Cox nodded. Then the pitching coach and manager smiled at each other knowingly.
That kind of assuredness, however, was gone midway through last season, especially in that start against Florida. Says righthander John Smoltz, Glavine's teammate since 1988, "I didn't like what I was seeing." So in the first inning of the game the next night, Smoltz walked over to Glavine and sat next to him on the bench. "I knew what was coming," Glavine says. "Smoltzie gave me a little heart-to-heart."
Says Smoltz, "I thought he had given in to the situation, and I told him that. I thought he had reached the point of, Screw it. Whatever happens, happens. I told him that was wrong. That he was going to have to find a way to fight through it."
Since then Glavine has lost only four times in 34 starts, winning 20 while compiling a 2.13 ERA. It was during last season's second-half revival that Glavine began mixing in more cut fastballs, which bore in on the hands of righthanded hitters, and throwing his venerated changeup inside to righties, a taboo in baseball. Pitchers typically are reluctant to throw off-speed pitches inside, because mistakes—left up or over the plate—are easily crushed. For years, however, Maddux has defied convention by throwing changeups and sliders inside. Cox said Glavine warmed to the idea by watching Maddux.
"I starting pitching inside more last year out of necessity," Glavine says. "Things weren't coming as easily to me as they had in the past, so I had to find something else. All of a sudden I'm throwing fastball in, cutter in and changeup in—and all of them look very similar coming out of my hand."
Glavine added yet another pitch this year, the backdoor slider, a breaking ball to righthanded hitters that looks like a fastball wide of the strike zone but curls back to nip the outside corner. He uses the pitch infrequently yet effectively. For instance, he threw one on a 2-and-2 count to Mets leftfielder Roger Cede�o on Thursday. Cede�o stared at it as if it were a UFO. The pitch was called strike three.
Though Glavine can't throw a decent curveball and almost never hits 90 mph on the radar gun, he has earned $70 million in baseball and, after his five-year, $42 million contract expires at the end of this season, he is due for more riches. Glavine and Maddux could be free agents next fall. The Braves have not opened negotiations with either, preferring to see how they pitch this season and what happens with labor negotiations. Some Atlanta players are puzzled as to how the club could be so passive with franchise institutions. Both pitchers prefer to stay. "It doesn't concern me now," Glavine says, "but I know I'm in a position where the better I do, the more I can enhance my position."