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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Greg Maddux: A Brief Appreciation
The greatest pitcher I've ever seen, Greg Maddux, has retired. I could recount his impressive stats in order to persuade you, but that won't move you to feel what it was like to watch Greg Maddux. Let me just tell you the story of a few games that define him for me. I remember a game in 2003 up in Montreal, before they became the Nationals. Montreal got several soft hits on the speedy turf in the first inning; a few balls barely found holes. Before I knew it, the score was 5-0, and Greg was upset. I thought for sure they'd yank him out. He must've prevailed upon pitching coach Leo Mazzone, or Leo saw how lucky they were, because Maddux stayed in--for seven more innings. Montreal got nothing more, and the Braves were victors, 6-5.
Another game was in St. Louis a couple years later. Maddux pitched for the Cubs then, and my hometown Cards hit him hard that night. Four runs in the first, I think. But Maddux returned, this time pitching six more innings. Though the Cubs lost 4-3, Maddux surrendered no more runs. It remains one of my favorite nights, as I was in attendance. Two seasons ago, Maddux came to St. Louis again, this time with San Diego. On this night, he was matched against Cardinals starter Mark Mulder. This game was the epitome of a pitchers' duel: 2-1 in the 6th inning when the Padres pinch-hit for Maddux to try scoring the tying run. They failed. St. Louis prevailed, 2-1. The last game I'd like to recall was in 2005, I believe, in Chicago. Maddux pitched against Cincinatti for the Cubs. Maddux was deadly efficient, and I thought he had a shot--even at 39--to finish the game. I think it's a starting pitcher's best accomplishment to finish a game. Maddux finished 109 games of the 740 he started, an extremely high total for this era. As it turned out, this game was one of them. Maddux only surrendered 2 runs, both on separate home runs by the catcher, Javier Valentin. These games from the twilight of a Hall of Fame career illustrate just how great he was, even how great he was at his height, when I was too young and foolish to appreciate him. He beautified the game just by playing it, and that is truly the only compliment a baseball player needs.