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Tom Takes A Giant Step
Craig Neff
August 12, 1985
Tom Seaver added more luster to an already brilliant career by winning his 300th victory before some old friend in New York
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August 12, 1985

Tom Takes A Giant Step

Tom Seaver added more luster to an already brilliant career by winning his 300th victory before some old friend in New York

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When the ball plopped into the glove of his leftfielder, Reid Nichols, Tom Seaver doubled over in relief. Then he did a little jump for joy. Teammates were surging forward and 54,032 people were cheering, but for a moment he was alone, not knowing quite what to do. He was back in New York, where it all started, but the scene was a bit strange—his uniform said SOX across the chest, and the day started with a tribute to Yankee broadcaster Phil Rizzuto. Seaver had just beaten the Yankees 4-1 on a six-hitter to win his 300th major league game. It was another masterpiece in a gallery 19 years in the making, and the artist had only that brief instant to savor his work before the patrons arrived.

And arrive they did. His catcher, Carlton Fisk, lifted him off the ground, and the celebration began. Yankee fans and Mets fans alike—and maybe even the odd White Sox fan—began chanting "Sea-ver, Sea-ver" as the pitcher was mobbed by his Sox teammates. Fisk even gave him a fleeting kiss on the cheek before Seaver broke away and went over to his wife, Nancy, and his daughters, Sarah and Anne, in their field-level box. "Piece of cake," he told them.

Actually, it was a deftly shaded work of art that might have been entitled, Sunday in the Park with George Thomas Seaver. Over nine innings he scattered six hits, walked one, struck out seven and got out of several jams by mixing speeds and using guile. At 40, Seaver remains remarkably baby-faced, but he is the artist as an older man, one who no longer knows on a given day what colors he will find on his palette. "That's the challenge," he says. "That's what pitching is—using whatever you have to work with on any particular day—or inning, or situation. It's something that can change every time you go to the mound."

When Seaver finally took the mound after the festivities to honor Rizzuto, he found he had his good stuff. The White Sox failed to take advantage of early opportunities and trailed 1-0 going into the sixth. But then they touched Joe Cowley and Brian Fisher for four runs and left it up to Seaver. In the eighth, a two-out single by New York's Don Mattingly put runners on first and third, but Seaver told pitching coach Dave Duncan he wanted to finish, and Duncan—subbing for ejected manager Tony La Russa—allowed him to face Dave Winfield. Seaver went to a full count and struck out Winfield on a changeup.

He ran into trouble again in the ninth. Rookie Dan Pasqua opened with a single. Seaver struck out Ron Hassey, and Harold Baines made a leaping grab of a Willie Randolph liner against the wall in right. After walking Mike Pagliarulo on four pitches, Fisk and Duncan went out to the mound to see if everything was all right. Fisk later said that to keep Duncan from taking Seaver out, "I would have picked Dune up and carried him back to the dugout." Seaver thereupon got pinch hitter Don Baylor to hit his first pitch into the air in left, and Nichols settled under it for the final out. There was something else in the air: Seaver's number is 41, as is that of losing pitcher Cowley, and the score of both this game and the Mets' victory that day was 4-1. Whatever the score, the very idea of a players' strike seemed far away on Sunday afternoon.

With the last out, Seaver became the 17th pitcher to reach the 300-win plateau—the 13th righthander, the fourth oldest and the third to have pitched in both the American and National leagues. (He also improved his 1985 record to 12-8 and lowered his ERA to 2.92.) He is the only 300-game winner to have written three books on pitching mechanics and probably the first one able to cite Bernoulli's Law to explain why a fastball rises. "I'm a disciplined individual," he said the other day as he worked at The New York Times crossword puzzle. "I'm very organized, very able to block out distractions to my pitching." He dropped a trickle of tobacco juice into the little brass spittoon by his locker—neatly, of course—and wished he could remember the five-letter word for "absquatulate." (Scram.)

"I've never seen anyone so completely prepared physically and mentally, so aware of himself in game situations," says Fisk. "If not for his humanness—and all humans make mistakes—I don't think anybody would get any hits off him." Seaver's 300-189 career record (.613), achieved on Mets, Reds and White Sox teams with a combined record of exactly .500 (1,478-1,478), reflects precious few mistakes, though he seems to remember them all.

Years hence, of course, Chicago fans will recall this season for more than just Tom Terrific. The White Sox' other elder statesman, the 37-year-old Fisk, is leading the majors with 28 home runs—two more than he has ever hit in a complete season. He's bouncing around like a young man, stealing bases (11) and even tagging opponents out at the plate two at a time, as he did Friday after some bone-head baserunning by the Yankees.

When Seaver won his 299th on Tuesday night in Boston by going nine innings in a 7-5, 10-inning game, Fisk, the onetime Red Sox star, provided support by lofting a bases-empty fly ball into the leftfield screen at Fenway Park. It wasn't exactly the 1975 World Series revisited, but for a moment Fisk's New Hampshire stoicism melted away as he gleefully circled the bases to a standing ovation.

Seaver speaks more of Fisk's defensive contribution. "I've really been lucky in that I've worked with three of the best catchers of my era: Jerry Grote, Johnny Bench and now Pudge," he says. "All of them quickly came to an understanding of what I like and how I pitch. That's extremely important. In each case, our two minds started to work as one." So close is the thinking between the current battery-mates that Seaver almost never shakes off a Fisk sign, except when he and Pudge are intentionally trying to confuse the hitter. "He knows that I pitch more to my strengths than to a hitter's weaknesses," says Seaver. "Pudge also knows when to come out and give me a kick in the butt."

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