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Can any staff accomplish that again? None but the Braves. "It makes for nice conversation, doesn't it?" says Brave general manager John Schuerholz. Indeed it does make for nice conversation, which is why we reserved a table for five for the men from Atlanta and asked them to chew on the subject of their collective greatness. Lord knows, it's a five-course meal.
A rotation of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz-Avery-Smith goes right-left-right-left-right, like a flurry of punches or an Arthur Murray dance lesson, like power and grace, like the fastball of Smoltz and the two-seam changeup of Glavine. "We're not narrowly focused on hard-throwing righties or hard-throwing lefties," says Smoltz. "We're solid all over."
What's more, these Brave young men are heartbreakingly young. At 27, Smith is four weeks older than Glavine, who is three weeks older than Maddux. Smoltz is 25 and Avery but 22. Most important, though, the five have been locked up by Brave management, and Schuerholz has swallowed the key. Maddux ($28 million) is signed through the '97 season, Glavine ($20.5 million) and Smoltz ($16 million) through '96. Smith is ineligible for free agency until after the '94 season, and Avery until after the '96 season. "I'm the one who is locked up," says Avery, laughing. "If those other guys are locked up, they don't mind being in jail."
"Barring a trade, we're going to be together for at least four years," says Smoltz ominously. "The Braves don't want to create a team that wins one World Series and then sees everybody jump ship." The Braves want to win several World Series, then regally retire the historic ship—a baseball Queen Mary, if you will. Consider that without Maddux (sidebar at right), who has won more games than any pitcher in the National League in the last five years, Atlanta has already been to two consecutive Octoberfests. The eight World Series games that the Braves have lost in the last two years have been by one run, one run, one run, one run, one run, one run, one run and one run, respectively. It is impossible to get closer to two rings without actually answering the phone, and the Braves know it, thank you very little. "It would be disappointing if we don't win the World Series," says Avery, who is, make no mistake, talking about this year's World Series. "We don't want to be the Buffalo Bills."
Who do they want to be? "I am in no way comparing our team to Notre Dame," says Smoltz. "But when everybody plays Notre Dame, they're not just playing a college football team, you know?"
The Braves are not just a baseball team. On any other baseball team, for instance, a pitcher in a five-man rotation (page 42) will throw from a mound once between starts. Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone has his pitchers throw twice between starts, to blend the best feature of the obsolescent four-man rotation (staying sharp) with the best feature of the five-man rotation (staying healthy). "A pitcher always has one dead day in a five-man rotation," says Mazzone. "What does he usually do? He plays catch in the outfield. Well, why not have him play catch with someone squatting behind home plate?"
Given that the Brave pitchers are as healthy as Mueslix—in the last two years only Smith has had any kind of arm trouble (tendinitis in his right shoulder)—why wouldn't every team choose to follow Atlanta's regimen? The fear, of course, is that the wealthy weenieboys of today will wear themselves out if they throw too often. But Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Avery have thrown more innings than any other starting staff in baseball over the last two seasons. Maddux led the league in innings pitched (268) last year and has averaged 251 innings a season for the last five. What's more, no staff has ever pitched as many postseason innings in consecutive years as Atlanta's has. "But they're efficient," says Mazzone, unworried about overworking the staff. " Bobby Cox doesn't leave them out there for 140, 150 pitches. They get the job done with a lot less."
And less is more. And more (innings) or less (hits) is, more or less, what the Brave pitchers are always trying to achieve. "We all want each other to do well," says Glavine. "And we all want to do better than the last guy. No question, we all want to outdo each other."
So as the pitchers competed among themselves to throw the most innings last season, Smoltz good-naturedly lobbied on the bench to have Glavine yanked from a Brave blowout. And as they competed for the most starts, Avery good-naturedly lobbied Mazzone to let him have the crucial first start after the All-Star break. And as they competed to yield the fewest hits....