10/05/2002 3:04 pm ET
Press Row: Pitching subplots
Spotlight on Maddux's playoff struggles
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Media coverage entering this week's Braves-Giants series centered on Barry Bonds and his postseason struggles. Heading into Saturday's Game 3, the focus turned to Greg Maddux.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Carlos Frias made the statistical comparison on how the 15-time 15-game winner has a 10-13 career record in the playoffs. But as he points out, Maddux is far from a choker with his 3.24 career postseason ERA. He had two efforts last October in which he gave up two runs in six and seven innings, respectively, against the Astros and Diamondbacks. The Braves scored two runs for him in the first game and were shut out by Randy Johnson in the second.
"In one span -- from Game 1 of the 1997 Division Series through Game 1 of the 1999 World Series -- Maddux made nine consecutive postseason starts allowing two runs or fewer," Frias writes. "Yet in that span, a total of 62 innings, he won only three games,despite a 2.03 ERA.
"And his luck is getting worse. In recent years, he has even dropped his ERA, and still he loses. In his last five trips to the postseason, Maddux has a 2.96 ERA. Yet, he has a 3-8 record in those 13 starts.
"Before that dismal stretch began in 1997, Maddux actually had a higher ERA (3.50) in his first 15 postseason starts, which included his first two as a Chicago Cub in 1989. But in that span, he had a winning record, 7-5."
Maddux is expected to have his personal choice of catcher behind the plate as Henry Blanco replaces Javy Lopez in the lineup. Considering Lopez homered twice in the first two games, it was not a popular decision among online voters, who voted 2-to-1 for Lopez over Blanco.
"Manager Bobby Cox was asked Friday if he remembered when Lopez last caught Maddux and how difficult it was to take Lopez's bat out of the lineup when he's as hot as he's been," David O'Brien wrote in the Journal-Constitution. "For the record, Lopez last caught a Maddux start on Sept. 8, 1998."
New York Times writer Rafael Hermoso got into the personal nature of it: "It is the unwritten rule of the Braves: when Maddux starts, anyone but Lopez catches. Charlie O'Brien, Eddie Perez, Paul Bako and now Henry Blanco have taken turns backing up Lopez and serving as Maddux's personal catcher. Maddux is a cerebral pitcher with normally pinpoint control. He relies on his rapport with his catcher, and he obviously has a good one with Blanco.
"Blanco will be in the lineup Saturday for Game 3 with the three-of-five-game series tied at 1-1; he will play in a postseason game for the first time in his five-year career.
"Lopez, despite his production in the first two games, was resigned to that fact. 'I'm accustomed to it by now,' he said."
By the time Lopez last caught Maddux in a start four years ago, Hermoso continued, "Maddux and Lopez's divergence had already begun by then. In 1996, when Maddux won his last Cy Young award, he had a 3.44 earned run average in the 131 innings that Lopez caught. In the 114 innings that Perez caught him, Maddux's E.R.A. was 1.89.
"Lopez will not say he feels hurt that he has no chance of staying in the lineup when Maddux pitches and said the only difficulty was in coming off the bench. And he is gracious toward Blanco, adding, 'I count on my teammate Henry Blanco picking me up.'"
The Giants coverage almost totally centered on starter Jason Schmidt facing his former team in Game 3 and what he learned from his time with the Braves. San Francisco Chronicle writer Henry Schulman took a slightly different tilt, leading with what Schmidt took from his time with the Braves -- a 1995 World Series championship ring.
"For pitching 25 innings as a rookie in 1995 and compiling a 2-2 record with a 5.76 ERA," Schulman wrote, "Jason Schmidt got a ring when his Atlanta Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians in the Series, even though he did not throw a pitch in the postseason.
"Schmidt wore the ring for a year then stuck it in a drawer.
"'I remember last time people were saying, 'How does it feel to win a World Series?' I said it would have been a lot better if I could have had an opportunity to pitch in it. Now, here I am, and it's against the team I started with. It couldn't get any more special than that.'"
Los Angeles Times writer Jason Reid looked at Reggie Sanders' inside dish on Maddux and Tom Glavine. "The Giants followed Sanders' tips in Game 1," he wrote, "getting 10 hits against Glavine and chasing him after five innings in an 8-5 victory at Turner Field, and they're hoping to have similar success today against Maddux in Game 3 at Pacific Bell Park.
"'I've seen how they pitch and seen how they approach different hitters,' said Sanders, who singled off Glavine and scored in the Giants' three-run second Wednesday. 'It's fastballs on the outside part of the plate, consistently going to stay on the outside part of the plate.'"
"Of course, that's not exactly a news flash, considering Maddux and Glavine have openly discussed working the corners throughout their stellar careers. But Sanders provided insight into what the Giants could expect in specific situations from the Braves' 1-2 pitching punch.
"'I didn't realize what students of the game those pitchers were,' Sanders said. 'For them, they prepare themselves like a Curt Schilling, like a Randy Johnson. They have already played the game before they have played it. They have a plan and they stick with it.... That's why they've been so successful.'"
In a friendly -- so far as we know -- newspaper rivalry, the Journal-Constitution played off of the Sacramento Bee's description of Game 2 starter Kevin Millwood as a "homespun, beer-drinkin', hard-throwin', five-o-clock shadow-wearin', slow-as-molasses-talkin', wish-I-was-in-Dixie-soundin' Atlanta Braves pitcher." Further, the Bee said, "Millwood sounded like Buck Owens on quaaludes. He looks like a roadie for Lynyrd Skynrd."
Instead of taking offense, the AJC took a poll. As of Saturday afternoon, 77 percent of the 328 respondents considered the "wish-I-was-in-Dixie-soundin'" part to be a compliment. Four voters liked the "five-o-clock shadow-wearin'."
Preferring to turn the other cheek, the Journal-Constitution did not rehash Phil Jackson's famous cow bell reference to Sacramento Kings fans.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.