Tom Glavine is now a Hall of Famer. Although he will always be known as that consistent ace pitcher for over a decade with the Atlanta Braves, his five year stint for the Mets was an integral part of his career. While it was a no-brainer to see him enter Cooperstown on Wednesday, Mets fans seem to be torn at the way they view Glavine’s tenure with the Mets. I guess it might have something to do with that last start of 2007, not to mention his worst. However, the signing of Glavine on December 5, 2002 was a significant day for him because it stoked the beginning of his twilight that proved to be a five year exercise in admirable determination.
Glavine never wanted to come to the Mets. He wanted to be a Brave for life and enjoyed being a key building block to their perennial success for over a decade. When he hit free agency in 2002, Glavine was 36 years old and the Braves were unwilling to compensate their two time Cy Young Award winner with the contract he desired to finish his career. Steve Phillips, the Mets GM at the time, deemed Glavine to be a good investment to the tune of three years/ $35 million dollars. While many questioned the contract, no one can deny what Glavine would offer the team with his presence: stability and professionalism. The bigger question was: Would he continue to thrive at a high level?
The four years previous with the Mets, Glavine led MLB in total starts four consecutive years, averaging about 35 starts per season. In 16 years with the Braves, not including his nine start rookie season, Glavine surpassed the 200 innings mark 11 times while failing to make 30 starts only three times. In fact in his previous seven seasons before signing with the Mets, he averaged 35 starts and 230.2 innings per season. So despite the hesitancy to make a commitment to an aging star for big money, Glavine proved to be one of those rare pitchers who could deliver consistency and production beyond his years.
So of course, in his first year in New York, Glavine turned in one of his worst seasons of his career. He went 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA, while reaching career “lows” in H/9 and WHIP. He also had an alarming low SO/9 of 4.0, his worst since his first full season in 1988. The 2003 season proved to be a terrible season for the Mets and the acquisition was viewed as a huge mistake, much like Roberto Alomar the year prior.
In 2004, the Glavine Mets fans came to know in Atlanta showed up and performed. He pitched like he had a huge chip on his shoulder and infused the team with much needed competitive vigor. Through the first half of the season, Glavine had 17 starts going 7-5 with a 2.16 ERA; 15 of those 17 starts were “quality starts” under the MLB guidelines, but even more stellar when you viewed them in person. The high point of this great beginning, was a May 23rd Sunday afternoon game at Shea Stadium where Glavine pitched a complete game, one-hit shutout against the visiting Rockies. Glavine went on to make the All-Star team and things seemed to be looking up for the Mets as they were only two games back at the break. The second half of the season, Glavine regressed and the team went back to their losing ways. He finished the 2004 campaign 11-14 with a 3.60 ERA, the Mets went on to lose over 90 games, and Art Howe was fired after only two seasons.
The 2005 season was an exact opposite of the previous season due to an awful start. At the All-Star Break, Glavine was 6-7 with a 4.94 ERA through 18 starts. The more alarming statistics, however, were his .325 BAA and his 1.75 WHIP. The writing seemed to be on the wall for Glavine’s tenure and career with Mets to crash to a screeching halt. In the second half, Glavine’s season took off with a little help from the staff. With the help of pitching coach Rick Peterson, Glavine re-invented himself and bought in to what the insightful coach was preaching. Peterson stressed Glavine to pitch inside more and expand his repertoire and approach in hopes of stymying opponents. Well…it worked. Glavine in the second half went 7-6 with a 2.22 ERA through 15 starts. More importantly, those bloated statistics signifying his demise flipped to a .228 BAA and 1.00 WHIP respectively. Glavine was rejuvenated as a pitcher and primed to finish his career strong.
That fine finish and new found success in 2005 prompted the Mets to re-sign in 2006 to be part of a rotation set to contend. Now 40 years old, Glavine found himself in a pennant race for the first time since coming over three years prior. He went on to have a solid year being the number two in the rotation to Pedro Martinez. Glavine went 15-7 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. More importantly, he achieved consistency throughout season without the huge arcs of struggles which plagued him the prior three seasons. He missed out on three straight 200 IP seasons by two innings that year, but would have the opportunity to pitch more due to the Mets winning the division title. It was at this point, where the Mets needed Glavine more than ever.
The Mets finished their successful season strong but their starting pitchers literally limped into the postseason. Martinez and Orlando Hernandez both suffered from calf injuries going into the Division Series, and Glavine became the ace pitcher by default; for the most part he delivered. In Game 2 of the Division Series versus Los Angeles, Glavine pitched six scoreless innings getting the win in a 4-1 victory at Shea. In the NLCS, Glavine pitched the opener and came through like the ace he now was. He hurled seven innings of four hit ball yielding no runs once again propelling the Mets to a 2-0 victory. It was an incredible and important performance. It provided the Mets with a feeling that they could withstand the injuries in the rotation to continue their championship run behind a pitcher they knew they can count on. He looked very much like the Glavine the Mets saw dominate them in Game 3 of the NLCS in 1999.
In Game 5, Glavine labored through 4 innings, but it was the Mets failure to get a big hit is what led to their downfall that night and once again in Game 7. Although, the Mets disappointed that season in October, it’s safe to say Glavine’s presence was critically important due to the sudden injuries that occurred to the rotation. The ability to compete at a high level in big games was something the Mets needed from Pedro and El Duque, but they weren’t there. Glavine, who has done it numerous times, was healthy and came through despite his rising age and declining talent he usually could’ve relied on. His knowledge of pitching and guile made Glavine an asset even at age 40, not to mention his unfounded durability. This very reason is why the Mets decided to bring him back for another season in 2007.
Now 41 years old, Glavine was the ace of the staff. Martinez was out for the year via injury and the Mets were primed for another run at a World Series crown. Glavine had a comparable year to 2006 going 13-8 with a 4.45 ERA. While, his performance wasn’t of traditional Glavinesque fashion, his durability and reliability most certainly were. Once again, Glavine pitched 200 innings and kept the Mets in contention amongst a rotation consisting of journeymen Steve Trachsel and Jorge Sosa to go along with John Maine and Oliver Perez who were still quite raw in their development. As fans know, The Mets went on to have one of the most historical collapses in MLB history, and Glavine certainly became one of the poster boys for it. The final day of the season, he got knocked out of the first inning against the Marlins yielding seven runs pretty much sealing the fate for the Mets postseason hopes. It was an awful day for Mets fans and the sight of Glavine walking off the field for the last time in blue and orange is one of the images that stick out in the forefront of fans’ memories from that season. However, they would have never been there without him.
Glavine only pitched in 13 more games in his career before retiring with the Braves the following season. There were many times in his tenure with the Mets, fans thought he was done and had nothing left. Maybe it was the last game in 2007 where his body finally caught up with his age. It was definitely not for a lack of determination and competitive spirit though.
Tom Glavine is a Hall of Famer not because of talent laced performance. He never had the blazing fastball or hard breaking curveball many pitchers can rely on in a tough spot. Glavine was one of the craftiest pitchers of all-time because he used smarts and determination to prevail when there wasn’t much else to rely on. The Mets saw him at his best with the Braves, but they saw a lot of his greatness here in New York too. On August 5, 2007, Glavine tallied his 300th career win; only the 23rd pitcher to reach that milestone and it was an added treat for Mets fans. There aren’t many pitchers in years past who could’ve achieved what Glavine did at his age with the stuff he had left. Glavine, along with his Hall-of-Fame teammate Greg Maddux, are the epitome of what an artisan is. Mets fans should be thankful his determination and unparalleled competitive nature allowed them to see it firsthand albeit in the twilight of his fantastic career.
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