- Wayne Drehs
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CHICAGO -- On a sports weekend highlighted by the most criticized, asterisk-plagued home run in baseball history, a blast that left baseball's commissioner motionless and its ever-growing fan base unsure if it should clap or cry, leave it to a pitcher who has never intimidated a stop watch, no less a radar gun, to give us a moment we should have no qualms about standing up and cheering for.
"Chicks dig the long ball," is what Tom Glavine and then-Atlanta teammate Greg Maddux insisted eight years ago in a Nike commercial. If they just lifted more weights and tossed more medicine balls, they too, could be loved like Mark McGwire.
Well, what a difference almost a decade makes. Twenty-one years after the baby-faced left-hander first stepped to the mound for the then-dreadful Atlanta Braves, New York Met Tom Glavine became the 23rd member of the 300-win club Sunday night in an 8-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
And at 9:24 p.m. Central time, when the Mets pitcher walked off the Wrigley Field mound staked to a 5-1 lead, every one of the 41,599 fans stood and roared in approval.
The message was clear: Chicks dig soft-tossing lefties, too.
"As a player and a person, you want people to respect you and respect what you're about," Glavine said. "The response tonight was overwhelming. That's something you never expect to hear on the road."
It shouldn't have been a surprise. Glavine received a similar ovation when he walked off the mound five nights ago in Milwaukee, his Mets leading the Brewers 2-1 in the seventh inning.
The praise is easy to understand. In an age of bulked up supersized home run hitters, baseball fans are desperate for someone they can wrap their arms around and trust. And Glavine is as good a bet as anyone.
There's no entourage, no pimped-out Hummer with oversized wheels. Just a hardworking 41-year-old pitcher who wanted to get this honor out of the way tonight because he has just one more start before his kids return home to Atlanta for school.
How can you not cheer for that? How could you see Glavine's exhausted mother, sitting on a folding chair in the steamy bowels of Wrigley Field after the game, listening to the fans above her chant her sons name and not smile? How could you see Glavine's 6-year-old son Mason, running around in a black T-shirt that said, "Will Pitch for Food" and not laugh?
How could you see his wife Christine wipe away the tears after the game, then explain how two of the kids were up sick most of the night, keeping Glavine awake, and not think he sounds like most any other dad in America?
"People say this all the time, but he is truly the ultimate professional," said Mets closer Billy Wagner, a close friend of Glavine's. "He is a great representative of the game. He plays the way you're supposed to play. He acts the way you're supposed to act. He's a guy that everyone can cheer for."
With Glavine, what you see is what you get. He doesn't have electric stuff. He has struck out more than 160 hitters just twice in his two-decade career. Yet he's made a career out of an uncanny ability to replicate his motion, refuse to throw the ball down the middle of the plate and show up for work every five days, no matter what stands in his way.
For all the praise of Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak, Glavine's career has to be considered almost the pitching equivalent. He has made 653 consecutive starts, the most in National League history. And only Maddux (20) has had more consecutive seasons with at least 25 starts than Glavine's 19.
Want to know how long Glavine has been toting a lunch pail to major league ballparks? Look at the names of the four pitchers he's faced most in his career: Ramon Martinez, Andy Benes, John Smiley and Al Leiter. None of them are still in the game. Or look at the names of the three batters who have hit him hardest: Todd Zeile, Tony Gwynn and Barry Larkin. They're all gone, too.
Coming to work hasn't always been easy. In 1992, he pitched with a broken rib. A year later, he did so with a partially torn rotator cuff. In 2004, he lost his front teeth in a New York taxi-cab incident but didn't miss a start.
In August of last season, he received the biggest scare of all, when he left a game against the Phillies after feeling coldness in his ring finger. What was originally thought to be a symptom of Raynaud's Syndrome, a disease which causes the arteries that bring the blood to the fingers to spasm was later treated with medicine. And on Sept. 1, Glavine was back at work, tossing 85 mph fastballs at opposing hitters.
So excuse the tears from Christine on Sunday night. Or just embrace them. That's what Glavine did when he walked off the field after the final out. He held his wife in his arms, knowing full well everything the two of them have been through. From Atlanta to New York, with criticisms in between that he was washed up and overpaid. To being a 300-game winner.
"There's really not much I needed to say," Glavine said of seeing Christine on the field. "Hugging your wife after an accomplishment like that on the grass at Wrigley Field? It doesn't get much better than that."
It was a snapshot we might never be able to take again -- a veteran pitcher stomaching all the challenges this cruel game can often deliver to win his 300th game.
While players like Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr. seem to be passing someone else on the home run leaderboard with seemingly every swing of the bat, only 10 pitchers have reached 300 victories since the end of World War II. And since 1990, only Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Maddux have achieved the honor.
After Glavine, the closest pitcher to 300 wins is Arizona left-hander Randy Johnson, 43, who sits at 284 but is out for the rest of the season waiting to undergo back surgery.
Then there's 38-year-old Mike Mussina, who has 244 wins. And 35-year-old Pedro Martinez, just returning to shape after rotator-cuff surgery last October, at 206. Even 26-year-old C.C. Sabathia has a long road ahead. He'd need to win 15 games in each of the next 14 seasons to even have a chance at 300.
"I'm not saying I want to be the last one," Glavine said. "I want someone else to be able to feel this, too. But if I am the last one to win 300, that would be pretty cool."
All you needed to know about how hard it is to climb this mountain, how challenging it is to reach pitching's ultimate peak stood 60 feet, six inches away from Glavine as he climbed into the batter's box for his final at-bat in the seventh inning.
It was Kerry Wood, a man who Glavine has said he thought had the stuff to someday win 300. And yet, after a seemingly endless stream of shoulder and elbow surgeries, there was Wood, standing on a major league mound for the first time since last May. As a middle reliever lost in mop-up duty.
Don't think Glavine won't someday appreciate the historical importance of this. He just wasn't quite there Sunday night, despite receiving a postgame call of congratulations from commissioner Bud Selig.
Yet when the stream of hugs, handshakes and kisses on the cheek was finally over, when Glavine was allowed to have a spare moment to do what he wanted, he gathered his mom, his dad, his wife and his four kids around him. He asked some 30 other friends and family who were in attendance to join, too, and they all stood together, with the Wrigley scoreboard in the background, for a picture that is sure to someday end up in Glavine's home.
Right next to his plaque from Cooperstown.
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Fans are desperate for someone they can trust -- and Tom Glavine is as good a bet as anyone.