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Change Up

By adjusting his strategy late in his career—pitching to hitters tight instead of away—Tom Glavine got to 300 wins

HE WAS 39 years old, feeling healthy as ever and 34 victories from his 300th career win, yet two summers ago Tom Glavine's chances of reaching that hallowed pitching milestone were fading. After scuffling through his first two seasons with the Mets—the two-time Cy Young Award winner with the Braves had gone 20--28 combined in 2003 and '04—he was 4--7 with a 5.05 ERA in June '05. On the team charter from Seattle to New York, on a day when Glavine had been rocked by the Mariners, Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson sought out the lefthander. "Do you want to keep pitching and get to 300?" he asked Glavine. "Because if you do, then you need to change. You need to take your scouting report and wipe the slate clean."

Glavine recalled that moment last Saturday, one day before becoming the 23rd pitcher and the fifth lefthander to win 300 games. On a sultry Sunday evening at Wrigley Field, Glavine stifled the Cubs over 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs in an 8--3 Mets win. "For the most part I feel relief," he said after the game, "but believe me, I know the company I'm in."

Glavine ultimately was able to join that elite group because he reinvented himself as a pitcher. In 16 seasons in Atlanta, Glavine had been a fastball-changeup artist who perplexed hitters by painting the outside corners of the plate. But he was losing velocity with age, and the 2003 implementation of QuesTec (the video system that allows for a review of home-plate umpires' calls) narrowed the strike zone. Peterson implored him to start attacking hitters on the inside of the plate and to work on his curveball. Glavine took the advice and then went 9--6 with a 2.50 ERA for the rest of 2005. Last year he was 15--7 with a 3.82 ERA.

Says Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who was Glavine's longtime mentor in Atlanta, "He beat us [in June '06], and even went inside on one of our hitters when he was behind in the count. I talked to him [the next day] and said, 'You never did that before.' He said, 'Didn't have QuesTec before either.'"

On Sunday night Glavine consistently challenged Chicago's big righthanded boppers—leftfielder Alfonso Soriano, first baseman Derrek Lee and third baseman Aramis Ramirez—with 86- and 87-mph fastballs on the inside of the plate. And with the Cubs threatening in the sixth inning, Glavine struck out outfielder Cliff Floyd on a vicious curve. "He didn't have that pitch a few years ago," says Floyd. "He's changed his game over the years, but he's always been the ultimate competitor. It's no surprise he's a 300-game winner."

Though he has hinted at retiring following this season, Glavine doesn't appear to be slowing down; at week's end he was 10--6 and led the first-place Mets in quality starts (17) and innings pitched (144). "Next year I don't know about," Glavine said on Sunday. "But I'd like to keep pitching for a long time this year."

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A NIGHT TO REMEMBER Glavine beat the Cubs on Sunday to join an elite group.