I don't know how many fans have been fortunate enough to witness a pitcher win his 299th game. I've done it twice. I was at Fenway Park to watch Tom Seaver of the White Sox pick up No. 299 in 1985 and I was at Shea Stadium last week to watch Tom Glavine do the same.
It was a way bigger thrill the first time.
Never mind that this was my first trip to Fenway, my first trip to any big-league ballpark other than Shea. This was Tom Seaver, my childhood and all-time baseball idol, age 40, bulling his way through a professional rebirth. When he wound up on the White Sox by way of something called the free agent compensation pool, Seaver had come off his only two losing seasons, an injury-riddled 5-13 with the dreadful 1982 Reds and 9-14 with the rebuilding (to put it kindly) 1983 Mets. 9-14 actually wasn't so bad on a 68-94 club (ERA: 3.55), but Tom was not going out as he had come in.
His shift to the junior circuit gave him new life. After adjusting to the hitters' league, Seaver emerged as the White Sox' ace in '84, going 15-11, with 10 complete games and 4 shutouts in 34 starts. At 39 years old, he was putting up numbers a 24-year-old would die for in any era, especially the present one (see anybody throwing 10 complete games, even with benefit of a DH, anymore?). 1984's rebound left Tom a dozen wins shy of 300.
Determination to experience a different stadium and then sheer luck of the draw put Joel Lugo, his buddy the future golf wiz Rich Neugebauer and myself at Fenway on July 30, 1985 when Seaver was aiming for eleventh win of the season, the 299th of his career. Tom did not disappoint. Facing a lineup topped by Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice and Bill Buckner (and opposing Oil Can Boyd), Seaver gutted out nine strong innings, leaving matters tied 4-4. The White Sox, to the cheers of a couple of thousand New England Mets fans, scored three runs for him in the tenth. Juan Agosto held the fort and Seaver left Boston with a 7-5 win, career victory No. 299.
It was a very special night.
Tom Glavine's 299th? It was all right, I suppose. This Tom faced a lousy Pirates club, whose biggest threat to him was mounted in the first: three one-out walks. A nicely turned double play, Reyes to Easley to Delgado, quelled that uprising. Three Mets scored in the bottom of the first, three more in the bottom of the third. Glavine didn't look terribly sharp the rest of the way (Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay smoked him for a double and a homer, respectively, in the fifth) but he hung on for 112 pitches and six innings. The Mets never scored the additional runs that seemed available to them, causing Mike Steffanos and I unnecessary anxiety, but Heilman and Wagner were perfect and the Mets won 6-3.
As did Glavine. Good for him.
When Tom Seaver won his 300th, it was a milestone of milestones. Yankee Stadium was jammed with Mets fans. Phil Rizzuto Day took a back seat. Doc Gooden, going for and breaking Tom's Mets' consecutive win streak record in Chicago the same afternoon, took a back seat. Rod Carew attaining his 3,000th hit on the West Coast took a back seat. The Players Association's planned job action for later in the week took a back seat. If there was a visit from Mars, it went unnoticed. Tom Seaver took the mound on August 4, 1985 and didn't let go of it until he had converted No. 300. He came at Don Baylor with two out in the ninth and Baylor flied out to Reid Nichols in left. With that, Carlton Fisk and every other White Sock embraced Seaver almost exactly where he deserved to be embraced: on a pitcher's mound in New York. It was the most useful deployment of Yankee Stadium until Dave Mlicki gave it a much-needed shot of vitality in 1997.
If Tom Glavine matches the feat of Tom Seaver and 21 others tonight in Milwaukee, it almost assuredly will not end where it should. Tom Glavine will be in the clubhouse or perhaps the dugout when the ninth rolls around. Almost nobody pitches nine innings anymore, certainly not at age 41. The last two guys to get to 300, Clemens and Maddux, watched others secure their milestones. Sign of the times. Sign of age. Whichever. The likelihood is that Tom Glavine will not be on the field when he “earns” his 300th win, that he will not have been on the field for maybe an hour, that it will be in the hands of men named Feliciano, Mota, Heilman and Wagner to get it for him if he's in a position to get it at all.
Seaver needed Juan Agosto to preserve his 299th. That was one inning of relief that followed a regulation nine, nine frames that gave his White Sox every chance to succeed. Seaver alone secured his 300th. Glavine, if recent precedent holds, will have been removed from the lineup by the sixth or seventh at latest. On any other night, it wouldn't be worth remarking on. A pitcher's W is a footnote. A team's W is the goal. But it will take a little of the edge off a historic achievement to watch Tom Glavine, in a warmup jacket, his glove put away, come out to congratulate somebody else for nailing down his milestone.
Not that he isn't worthy of a 300th win. Not that we aren't reasonably delighted for him, Brave roots and all. But we can count. We know it's Glavine the Enemy (or, at best, Glavine the Stranger) with 242 wins, Glavine the Met with 57 going on 58. He's a Met now and every Tom Glavine triumph is an asset for us, regardless of what he was doing and who he was doing it for from 1987 through 2002. But there's familiarity and then there's family.
Even though he's sporting the right laundry on the brink of his momentous occasion, Glavine going for 300 as a Met doesn't begin to match the big deal it was for me (and I'm guessing many of you) when Tom Seaver reached the same milestone in sartorially challenged horizontal stripes. Tom Seaver was with the Chicago White Sox, but on July 30 and August 4, 1985, that was a technicality. Since March 31, 2003, Tom Glavine has been with the New York Mets. This is his fifth season here. It took me two-and-a-half of those seasons to stop secretly rooting for the ex-Brave to lose, maybe half-a-season more to figure out his winning equaled our winning, the next season to finally appreciate we were privileged to be on board a future Hall of Famer's ride toward history, wherever his journey started. In my mind, Tom Glavine's Met-by-technicality status didn't fade until 2005. That's more my problem than his, I readily admit.
I'm fine with Tom Glavine on the Mets. I'm more than fine when he's on his game. I was way more than fine when he shut down the Dodgers in Game Two last fall and did the same to the Cardinals in Game One of the next series. He's a pro's pro and then some. Watching even twilight Glavine reveals a generous glimpse of the skills and the talent that made him one of the best of his time. His ability to transform from Mr. Outside to Mr. Inside when quesTec called his strike zone bluff was probably the greatest late-career adjustment I'd seen since Seaver morphed from power pitcher to crafty righthander. Though I still believe management's starry-eyed pursuit of him in 2002 was misguided for a team on the downslide, and that he would have U-turned for Atlanta in a sec last winter had the opportunity and money been right, it hasn't been a bad deal having Tom Glavine in a Mets uniform. His 300th win, hopefully this evening, deserves our respect and our applause.
It feels OK. It just doesn't feel a whole lot more than that.