Braves v Yankees X

The dizzying intellect of Tom Glavine

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Articles about new Hall of Famers probably should not begin with personal stories, but back in 1991, when I was 24 years old, I found myself panicked in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse. Every sportswriter, I suspect, has a story about their first time in a professional clubhouse or locker room. That’s a scary place for a rookie writer. The clubhouse is a place where a writer is allowed but not necessarily welcome, a place where a writer is grudgingly allowed to observe (up to a point), but it is made perfectly clear that the writer does not belong.

Anyway, I was standing there, trying to figure out what to do, and I can only imagine how out of place I looked. The Braves had caught us all by surprise. Back then I worked at The Augusta Chronicle, 120 or so miles away, and the one thing that seemed sure was that I would not be writing any baseball. The Braves had lost 97 games the year before, 97 the year before that and 106 the years before that. It was during that stretch that an Atlanta newspaper asked readers to send in catchy Braves slogans, and one of those readers earned eternal fame by coining: “Atlanta Braves baseball: Better than getting hit in the head with a hammer, unless it’s a doubleheader.”

The 1991 Braves were a .500 team on July 4, a mildly surprising but generally uninteresting fact, and they plodded along for a little longer, and a little longer, and in early August they were 10 games over .500. On Aug. 27 they moved into a first-place tie with the Dodgers. I cannot even begin to relate how certain everyone was that the Braves would fall apart, but somehow, they did not (and would not for a dozen years). The winning was persistent enough that finally my sports editor sent me to write my first Major League Baseball game. I was insanely nervous, and utterly clueless, and then I found myself in the clubhouse after a victory with no idea whatsoever what I was supposed to do next. I felt a hand on my shoulder.

[MORE: Glavine, Maddux, Thomas headed to Cooperstown]

“You look lost,” Tom Glavine said.

“Um, well, no, I’m from the Augusta Chronicle and, um, I’m supposed to, um, write a story.”

“Yeah, I figured that,” Glavine said. “Come over to my locker, I’ll help you with your story.”

I don’t know that the conversation was quite that decipherable. I’m sure I did a lot more hemming and hawing. And I’m not sure that Glavine said those exact words. But both points were expressed. I was panicked, and he had chosen to help. I followed Glavine to his locker, he told me all about the Braves season and I wrote a story. And I have never forgotten the kindness.

So, I claim no objectivity when it comes to Glavine’s awesomeness. I have always viewed Glavine’s career through that prism — the guy who saved me when I was young. It’s funny because, looking back, he was young, too. He was not even a year older than me. He was not much bigger than me. But worlds separated us. Glavine was having his breakout season — he would win his first of two Cy Young Awards.

[Calcaterra: Glavine — Skinny, sweating and scared]

What’s easy to miss is that Glavine, for most of his career, was a power pitcher. It’s easy to miss because, compared to other stars of his time, Glavine did not strike out a lot of hitters. Also he grew famous for the circle change-up that he perfected.

But especially early in his career, Glavine threw his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, he had a hard slider he could mix in with a curveball and he was great athlete (he was taken in the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft). The reason he did not strike out that many (among 300 game winners, only Early Wynn had a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio) was because strikeouts were not his thing.

What was his thing? Well … remember the “Battle of wits” scene in “The Princess Bride?”

“But it’s so simple – all I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool. You would have counted on it. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.”

That, in a beautiful and hilarious paragraph, was Tom Glavine’s pitching style. His poison was simply this: He intended to get the hitter to swing a pitch at the knees and three inches outside the strike zone. The only question was how he was going to do it. The battle of wits had begun!

[MORE: Glavine’s reaction to Hall call]

One way Glavine might do this was to throw every single pitch at the knees and three inches outside the strike zone. It certainly seemed that entire games went by when Glavine did not throw even one strike. This strategy — the “look, eventually the hitter has to swing” strategy — was brutally effective.*

*This was especially effective — anti-Braves fans will tell you — because many of those Glavine pitches three inches outside of the strike zone were actually called strikes by accommodating umpires. This is certainly sour grapes up to a point. But it will be interesting to see if Glavine, among his Hall of Fame speech thank yous, throws one out there to the home-plate umpires.

Another of Glavine’s strategies was to throw the exact pitch that he should not throw. The great Tony Gwynn used to say that one of his great pleasures was matching up against Glavine because he knew that anything was on the table. A 2-0 change-up? Maybe. A down-the-middle fastball at 0-2? Possible. A slider in a fastball count, a fastball in a change-up count, a 3-2 pitch at the knees and three inches outside? You bet. With others, Gwynn more or less knew what was coming because he had studied them so intently. With Glavine, though Gwynn had studied him even more, his best strategy was to expect PRECISELY what he did not expect. That made for some epic matchups.

Another Glavine strategy was to get ahead in the count. That’s obvious, but it was a near religion with Glavine. First-pitch strikes (even if it meant throwing his low-and-outside fastball that looked better than it was and getting a foul ball) were everything. So Glavine threw A LOT of fastballs. The circle change was often his best pitch — it was undetectable, and it moved so much that it was all but impossible to hit solidly — but Glavine knew like all great things it would lose some of its wonder if used too much.

“If I throw 100 pitches in a game,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci back in 1997, “I’ll probably throw as many as 70 fastballs. … Too many guys pitch backward. They throw their breaking ball so much that it’s almost like their fastball is their off-speed pitch.”

Glavine won two Cy Young Awards and finished Top 3 another four times. He won 305 games and another 14 in the postseason. He made exactly 400 starts between 1991 and 2002 and averaged 224 innings per season, and in that time the Braves won with a sort of bland consistency that marks them as one of baseball’s great teams.

And the thing was that in all those years, hitters never quite caught up to him. They never quite figured him out. They didn’t understand that, just like in the Princess Bride, there was nothing to figure out, that they had no chance to win the battle of wits. The Dread Pirate Roberts built up an immunity to iocane powder. The Dread Brave Glavine had done pretty much the same thing.

Hyun-Jin Ryu suffered a setback after latest rehab start

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 02:  Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 2, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu felt sore after his latest rehab start with Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers will have him back off his planned assignments as a result.

Ryu hasn’t pitched for the Dodgers since September 12, 2014. He had offseason shoulder surgery and then suffered a groin injury in April. The Dodgers were hoping to get him back around mid-June but they’ll likely have to wait longer than that now.

Prior to Wednesday’s Triple-A rehab start, Ryu appeared in two rehab outings with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. He has decent results in his three appearances, yielding three runs (one earned) on eight hits with no walks and six strikeouts in nine innings.

Xander Bogaerts extends hitting streak to 22 games

BOSTON, MA - MAY 22:  Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after he hit a single in the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on May 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s hitting streak may be gone, but Xander Bogaerts‘ is still alive and kicking. The Red Sox shortstop extended his streak to 22 games on Sunday afternoon against the Blue Jays, hitting a ground ball single to left field off of R.A. Dickey in the sixth inning.

Coming into Sunday’s action, Bogaerts’ .351 batting average was the best mark in the American League and bested only by the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy (.390) and Ben Zobrist (.354). Bogaerts’ 71 total hits marked the most in baseball entering Sunday as well.

Report: Padres, White Sox discussing potential James Shields trade

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 7:  James Shields #33 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at PETCO Park on May 7, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Saturday that the Padres and White Sox have been discussing a trade involving starter James Shields. Those talks have “significant momentum,” according to Lin. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, however, says that nothing is imminent and that the Padres have fielded calls from a lot of teams interested in Shields.

Shields, 34, has a 3.06 ERA and a 56/23 K/BB ratio over 10 starts this season. He’s in the second year of a four-year, $75 million contract, earning $21 million this season as well as in 2017-18 with a $2 million buyout if his 2019 club option for $16 million is declined. Presumably, the Padres would be covering a portion of that remaining contract.

The White Sox got off to a hot start, but have slumped in May. The club entered Sunday on a five-game losing streak and had lost 11 of the previous 14 games. While Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have been outstanding at the top of the starting rotation, the back end of Carlos Rodon, Mat Latos, and Miguel Gonzalez has been underwhelming.

Jake Odorizzi loses no-hitter against the Yankees in the seventh inning

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 29:  Jake Odorizzi #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees on May 29, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Update (3:13 PM EDT): The no-hit bid is over. Odorizzi got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to lead off the seventh inning, but issued a walk to Brett Gardner before Starlin Castro crushed a two-run home run to left-center field, putting the Yankees up 2-1.

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Rays starter Jake Odorizzi is two-thirds of the way towards a no-hitter against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. On 81 pitches thus far, the right-hander has struck out five and walked none on 83 pitches. The lone blemish is a fielding error by shortstop Brad Miller.

The Rays have provided Odorizzi with just one run of support, coming on an RBI single by Evan Longoria in the third inning against Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi.

If Odorizzi can finish the final three innings without a hit, he would record the Rays’ first no-hitter since Matt Garza on July 26, 2010 against the Tigers. For the Yankees, it would be the first time they would be victims of a no-hitter since the Astros’ combined no-hitter on June 11, 2003 which involved Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner.