No fuss, no muss and still no 300

Posted: Tuesday, August 03, 2004

His manager is a baseball lifer, but he couldn't remember the last time a pitcher chasing his 300th win generated so little buzz. And though the commissioner made the short hop down from Milwaukee to mark the occasion, he had to agree.

Just to make sure nobody made too big a fuss, Greg Maddux did what he always does anything to win.

The 38-year-old Cubs right-hander lasted six sticky innings against the Phillies on a blistering afternoon, then sat down for the cause and logged a no-decision in Chicago's 6-3 win Sunday. As it turned out, any fanfare would have been wasted.

Before the game, Maddux got chills and a rousing ovation as he walked to the bullpen just behind third and within easy shouting distance of fans lining the low brick wall at ancient Wrigley Field. But whatever stuff he had warming up didn't last into the game. Maddux was clocked for two home runs in the first and left trailing 3-2, after throwing 87 pitches and failing to hit that number on the radar gun more than once or twice.

''I would have loved to go out there and try not to walk somebody and just hope they hit it at somebody,'' Maddux said about pitching the seventh. ''But it's not right, not fair to the rest of the guys and the rest of the team, the city. It's not the way you are supposed to play the game.''

Truth be told, he was gassed after five, hung on through six and was gratefully cooling his heels in the dugout when a four-run rally in the seventh put the Cubs ahead to stay. Maddux was still so overheated 15 minutes after the game that he walked into the interview room barefoot, wearing only a hat, T-shirt and spandex bicycle shorts.

In the hallway outside, Nomar Garciaparra, the Cubs' just-arrived shortstop, awaited his turn on the stage. He wasn't dressed much better, save for sandals and a pair of gym shorts with a fading Boston Red Sox logo on one side. But he was impressed.

''Talk about pitchers with a mound presence,'' Garciaparra said about his new teammate. ''This guy's definitely got it.''

Meanwhile, back inside the interview room, Maddux had no trouble pinning down the moment he lost it.

''I knew I was finished after six. We held them in the seventh and came back,'' he said very matter-of-factly. ''That's nice to see.''

Maddux is a monster on the mound but so unassuming off it that you might have trouble believing the Mr. Hyde whose competitive soul should make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer is also the Dr. Jekyll who usually turns up afterward in street clothes and spectacles, and hates media swarms every bit as much as he loves playing golf and video games.

After Maddux notched No. 299 in Selig's hometown last Tuesday, the Cubs tried to put him front and center before the national media. Instead of talking about himself, Maddux stepped back. He turned one specially arranged news conference into a clinic on pitching, and low-keyed every interview he sat through the rest of the week.

He had nothing to do with the 11th-hour deal that relocated Garciaparra from Fenway Park to Wrigley, but you can bet the timing hardly upset him. It kept his quest for 300 off the back page. Ditto for the chunks of concrete that fell on the upper deck and mezzanine levels at the 90-year-old ballpark, which grabbed the headlines for a few days and nearly forced the Cubs to shut the place down for repairs.

None of it affected Maddux' preparations, of course. He tiptoed to 299 wins and four Cy Young Awards one way by learning hitters' weaknesses, changing speeds and always aiming at the black edges that frame home plate. And he isn't about to change.

Maddux was already a pro when the Cubs called him up the bigs in 1986 and veteran reliever Lee Smith took one look at the skinny 20-year-old and dubbed him ''Bat Boy.'' He's even more of a pro now.

''It wasn't hard this time,'' Maddux said. ''You do what you have to do to get ready for your game, go out and pitch, and don't get caught up in it. I'll enjoy the off day tomorrow, throw on the side in two or three days and get ready to pitch when it's my turn.''

That should come at the end of the week in San Francisco, but Maddux knows there are no guarantees; 300 is a journey that allows precious few missteps, a club that has admitted just 21 members in the 130-something years pro baseball has been played.

A few names that never made it in: Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller and Carl Hubbell. When Roger Clemens finally broke down the door last season, he was given a welcome befitting his outsized personality.

Maddux, though, quietly arrived at the threshold by winning at least 15 games for a record 16 straight seasons. It's harder than it sounds. A few of the young guns in the generation behind him, say Barry Zito or Tim Hudson, could average 15 wins a season through their 40th birthdays and still fall short of 300.

''You're seeing history,'' Selig said at the end of the fifth inning. As it turned out, not quite. But the commissioner was dead-on with what he said next: ''This could be it for a long time.''

Mindful of that, Baker spent last week beating the drum for Maddux every chance he got. Though the manager is notoriously suspicious of pitchers, he also gave this particular pitcher every chance to talk him into working the seventh.

It's one measure of Maddux's craftsmanship that he never even considered asking.

''He's an honest guy,'' Baker said, handing out the ultimate compliment. ''When he says it's enough, it's enough.''

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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