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From a Footnote To an Ace

For most of his career, righthander Carl Pavano has been little more than the answer to not one but two trivia questions. Whom did the Red Sox give up in the trade for Pedro Martinez? Pavano, who was a 21-year-old Triple A prospect on the rise when the deal was made in 1997, and a player to be named later (which turned out to be then Class A righthander Tony Armas). Who served up Mark McGwire's 70th home run? Pavano, who made his only relief appearance of the year for the Expos on Sept. 27, 1998.

But this season Pavano, 28, has been unforgettable in becoming the surprise ace of the surging Marlins, who through Sunday had won 10 of their last 12 games and moved to within 21/2 games of the Cubs and the Giants in the National League wild-card race. Pavano (16--5, 3.09 ERA) has been the dominant pitcher on a staff that has otherwise struggled with the inconsistency of righthander Josh Beckett (6--8, 4.05) and lefty Dontrelle Willis (9--9, 3.97), as well as the departure of righthander Brad Penny (traded to the Dodgers on July 30).

"It takes a certain amount of time for guys to put it all together," says manager Jack McKeon. "I see a lot of confidence and maturity in him, and consistency in his pitching. He has himself under control at all times."

In four and a half seasons with the Expos, Pavano was 24--35 with a 4.83 ERA before he was traded to the Marlins in July 2002. Last season he had a career-high 12 wins and threw 200 innings for the first time, then flourished in the postseason when he had a 1.40 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 191/3 innings as a starter and a reliever.

Pavano's best pitch is a sinker that he throws in the low 90s, but he's been dominant since he started throwing more changeups late last season. Now that he can better locate that pitch, he can neutralize lefties with it; in fact, he's now nearly as effective against lefthanded hitters (.255 average against) as he is against righties (.242).

Pavano is eligible for free agency after this season, and he could join Martinez, Kevin Millwood and Matt Morris as the most-sought-after starters on the market next winter. But the easy-going Pavano says he'd like to stay in South Florida, even if the Marlins aren't able to offer as much money as other teams. "Money doesn't buy happiness," he said. "It doesn't take away problems, doesn't take away what you have to deal with and how you're going to get yourself ready. My biggest thing is the respect I have for this organization."




With his sinker and changeup, Pavano has finally become a dominant starter.