NEW YORK -- For more than a decade, Tom Glavine helped put the Atlanta Braves on top.
Now, he'll try to topple them.
Glavine, the most sought-after pitcher on the free-agent market, reached agreement with the New York Mets on Thursday for a three-year contract worth $35 million.
''It's almost surreal that it happened,'' Glavine said. ''I never thought I would play for someone else. I thought I would play my whole career with the Braves. I held out hope that things would work out, but they didn't. There's a lot of emotions. It's a tough time.''
Glavine's contract includes an option for a fourth year, based on innings pitched, that could make the deal worth $42.5 million.
Glavine, 36, had spent his whole career with the Braves, winning two Cy Young Awards and posting five 20-win seasons.
But their NL East rivals, the Mets and Phillies, showed much more interest in the left-hander than his old team. Even so, Glavine kept waiting for the Braves to match the other offers.
''I was kind of hoping they would call this morning and get back into it. But when they didn't call by midmorning, I knew I had to start focusing on getting something done with somebody else,'' he said.
''In the end, there was just something telling me in my gut that New York was the right choice. Mostly because I felt like for my family is was the best situation,'' he said.
Glavine also said he thought he'd feel more comfortable in the Mets' clubhouse.
''If you're going to make a change at this point in your career, you want to make the change with guys who are a little more your peers. The guys in New York are more of a veteran club, more my age,'' Glavine said.
And the Mets couldn't be happier.
''Unbelievable,'' pitcher John Franco said. ''He's the first big free agent we've had in a while.''
Gushed pitcher Al Leiter: ''It's a heck of a signing for us. I'm real excited -- he's a future Hall of Famer and he might be the last guy to win 300 games. I'm looking forward to learning a lot from him.''
The Mets said the deal was subject to Glavine passing a physical next Monday. That shouldn't be a problem -- he hasn't been on the disabled list since making his major league debut with Atlanta in 1987.
''I'm unhappy Tom won't be on our team. I'm not unhappy with the way things worked out,'' Braves president Stan Kasten said.
The Phillies were sorry to see Glavine go elsewhere.
''Tom was as professional and poised in our contract discussions as he is on the mound, and we wish him well ... against all our division opponents,'' Philadelphia general manager Ed Wade said.
Fellow Cy Young winners Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux also are free agents, but have hardly generated interest so far in the offseason.
With Glavine in their rotation, the Braves won 11 straight division titles -- and became the Mets' biggest nemesis. Glavine was 16-7 lifetime against the Mets.
And when Atlanta won its only World Series championship in 1995, Glavine pitched the clinching game. He gave up only one hit over eight innings and beat Cleveland 1-0 in Game 6 for the title, and was voted MVP of the Series.
Glavine was 18-11 with a 2.96 ERA this year. He is 242-143 with a 3.37 ERA lifetime.
He had been with the Braves longer than any active player, joining them a year before John Smoltz.
Glavine also happens to be the losingest pitcher in postseason history, going 12-15 overall. He has pitched well in some of those defeats, though he was hit hard by San Francisco last October in going 0-2 with a 15.26 ERA in the first round.
Glavine said both the Mets and Phillies made similar offers that included an option for a fourth year. The Braves finally guaranteed a third year, but wouldn't go any further.
''There's no question that pitching a fourth year was important to me,'' said Glavine, who said he would've taken less money to stay in Atlanta.
''I didn't want to be in position where I had 290 wins and I was looking for a team in three years to get 10 more wins. I wanted this to be my last contract and have the opportunity to win 300 games,'' he said.
Glavine and agent Gregg Clifton met with Kasten and Braves general manager John Schuerholz for six hours on Tuesday, but couldn't hammer out a deal.
''I was surprised that he left, until the end,'' Leiter said. ''Even though a guy has spent 15-16 years in one place, it's about being truly wanted.''
Glavine visited New York and Philadelphia last month. When the pitcher and his wife, Christine, came to New York, he had lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant with Leiter, Franco, general manager Steve Phillips, Mets owner Fred Wilpon, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and new manager Art Howe.
''I didn't have a good feeling at the time because Atlanta was still involved,'' Franco said. ''Once they dropped out, I knew it was 50-50.''
Both Franco and Leiter praised Fred Wilpon and Mets management for making the deal happen. Wilpon recently became sole owner, buying out partner Nelson Doubleday.
While the Braves led the NL in victories in going 101-59, the Mets were among the most disappointing teams in the majors last season.
Despite a huge payroll and the addition of big-name players such as Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn, they stumbled to a last-place finish at 75-86, leaving them 26 1/2 games behind the Braves and costing manager Bobby Valentine his job.
It was a far cry from 2000, when the Mets went to the World Series, where they lost in six games to the New York Yankees.
Glavine will join fellow lefty Leiter and Pedro Astacio in the Mets' rotation. The other starters are still to be determined, with John Thomson and several young pitchers in the mix, along with free agent Steve Trachsel.
''They felt I was an important part of where they were trying to get to,'' Glavine said.
''At the same time, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't uneasy about it. I'm nervous about it, simply because the situation here has been so positive.''
The Phillies, who went 80-81 last year, already had improved their team in the offseason by signing free agents Jim Thome and David Bell.
Drafted by Atlanta in 1984, Glavine's rise to prominence coincided with the Braves' surge to the top.
He posted the best season of his young career in 1991, going 20-11 as Atlanta reversed its fortunes and zoomed from last place to first. He also reached the 20-win mark the next two seasons, and did it again in 1998 and 2000.
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