I know, I know. We’ve been visiting 2003 a lot lately. Earlier this week, we checked in on what happened when Greg Maddux and John Smoltz combined to beat a non-Tom Glavine Mets starter in a pitcher’s duel. A few days ago, we saw what happened when Chipper Jones walked off on the Reds with a homer. This time, we’re going to another Braves-Mets matchup, where Maddux, Smoltz, and a bunch of homers toppled Glavine.
The gist: Maddux wasn’t at his best, but the Braves hit four solo homers off Glavine and added a fifth run to overcome a 2-1 deficit in the first. After a scary eighth, Smoltz slammed the door.
The set-up: Most of what was said about the 2003 Braves and Mets in the May 25 recap still applies. The Braves were still kicking baseball ass and taking names. They came into this game 36-17, fresh off a 15-3 obliteration of the Reds, with a 3.5-game lead and the best record in baseball. They had taken two of three from the Mets in the prior weekend series in Atlanta; this weekend series was their first visit to New York of 2003. The Mets, meanwhile, were not so good, entering the weekend at 24-29, 12 games behind the Braves. All this, despite the second-highest Opening Day payroll in baseball (the Braves were third).
Maddux, who started the May 25 game, still had very mediocre, un-Maddux-like numbers despite those seven scoreless innings against the Mets a week prior: 116 ERA-, 106 FIP-, 94 xFIP-. Glavine, too, was not having a blast of a time in his first two months wearing a non-Atlanta uniform: 97 ERA-, 104 FIP-, 100 xFIP-. His numbers would have looked better but for the Braves annihilating him the prior weekend in his return to Atlanta, giving him arguably his worst outing since 1999: six runs, including two homers and two walks with zero strikeouts in 3 1⁄3 innings.
How it happened: Safe to say, while both pitchers struggled facing the same team for the second time in a week, the switch in venue did not really help Glavine all too much. After two quick outs in the first, Gary Sheffield found a 3-1 pitch he liked and smashed it into left for a solo homer.
Maddux, though, was not the efficient, dominant guy that had stifled the Mets just five days ago, and his first inning of work was the biggest example of that. Roger Cedeño led off with a single. Rey Sanchez followed with what would’ve been another single for a two on, no out situation, but his grounder actually hit Cedeño, giving the Braves a break. Robbie Alomar lined out to short on the first pitch, but the Mets then strung together three straight singles to put two on the board. Cliff Floyd’s was flared into right, Jeromy Burnitz lined his over the right side of the infield to score Sanchez, and Ty Wigginton rolled one through the left side to score Floyd. Maddux finally got Tony Clark to pop out to end the inning.
But, the Braves weren’t trailing for very long. With one out and a full count, Julio Franco crushed a Glavine offering into left center for another solo homer, evening the score at two-all. Maddux then worked a much better inning despite a leadoff single (bunt, foulout, strikeout, 14-pitch inning overall). In the top of the third, Glavine again got two quick outs to start, but left a 2-1 pitch to Mark DeRosa where the latter could get his arms extended and sky it out to right, where it cleared the stands for the Braves’ third solo shot in as many innings. The Braves kept going afterwards, too: Sheffield drew a four-pitch walk, Chipper Jones singled, and Andruw Jones followed with a liner into right of his own. Sheffield rounded third and ran for home, but was gunned down at the plate by a strong throw from Cedeño.
Again pitching with a lead, Maddux had a very easy third, getting three straight groundouts on 12 pitches. The Braves couldn’t do anything to Glavine for once in the fourth. Franco notched a leadoff single, but Vinny Castilla hit into a 5-4-3 double play and Henry Blanco grounded out on a 3-1 pitch. The bottom of the fourth, in contrast, was another struggle bug inning for Maddux. Ty Wigginton collected his second hit via grounder to start the inning, this time rolling one down the third-base line for a double. A groundout to third moved him up a base, and Maddux plunked Vance Wilson to put runners on the corners. He then worked out of the jam by getting Glavine to ground to third, allowing Chipper to throw Wigginton out at home, and after a seven-pitch walk to Cedeño, got Sanchez to ground out to preserve the lead.
Both Glavine and Maddux had perfect fifths against the top of the order the third time through. Maddux’s last batter was a 10-pitch at-bat by Burnitz, who popped back out to him to end the inning. He would leave the game afterwards, having allowed nine baserunners (one walk, one HBP) in five innings, with two strikeouts and 83 total pitches. Before he was replaced, though, the Braves extended his lead, as Chipper followed suit by hitting another opposite-field homer off his old teammate, this time on a 2-1 count and with one out. It was the first time in Glavine’s career that he had allowed four homers in a game; he’d only allowed three homers in a start six times up to this point.
Darren Holmes came on and carved up the bottom part of the New York order, going strikeout-groundout-strikeout. Then, the bottom of the Atlanta order notched another run off Glavine, without a homer. Castilla started the inning by doubling into the right-center gap and moved to third on Blanco’s single up the middle. Marcus Giles then came on to pinch-hit for Holmes (he was still out of the lineup after being hit by that Jonny Cueto pitch a few days ago) and drove a flyout into center that scored Castilla as Atlanta’s fifth and final run. Glavine was done after seven, having allowed those five runs on 10 total baserunners, with a 1/1 K/BB ratio and those four homers allowed.
The Braves had a three run lead, but there were still nine outs to get. The first three of those were not very hard-fought, as Ray King came on and got two groundouts and a strikeout. The Mets used John Franco in relief of Glavine, and he gave up a couple of singles but no runs. For whatever reason, the Braves still weren’t disabused of the notion of using Roberto Hernandez, so he came on for eighth-inning duties as was his norm. 12 pitches into his outing, he had walked the first two batters of the inning, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Burnitz. Fortunately, the next two balls in play found gloves, as Burnitz flied out and Wigginton grounded into a forceout (but prevented the double play). At that point, the Braves had had enough and went directly to John Smoltz to face Clark. After a seven-pitch battle, Smoltz prevailed, getting Clark to swing and miss for the third time in the at-bat, sending the game to the ninth.
The Braves did nothing against Pedro Feliciano in the top half of the inning, and it was all on Smoltz to close it out. He slammed the door rather easily. Wilson went down on three pitches. The Mets inserted pinch-hitter Jason Phillips in Feliciano’s spot, but three pitches later, he too had to head back to the dugout. Cedeño put up a bit of a better fight, taking a ball and fouling two pitches off, but he cut on and missed pitch number five, ending the game.
Game MVP: Chipper Jones, who went 3-for-4 with the go-ahead solo homer off his erstwhile longtime teammate. Julio Franco also went 3-for-4 with a solo bomb in this game.
Game LVP: Tom Glavine. It’s hard to give up four homers and not be a game LVP. This was a really crazy stretch in Glavine’s career, which got even more absurd in his next start, as he only retired three of 12 batters he faced, walking five of them, including the opposing pitcher with the bases loaded. The crafty lefty was no stranger to bad stretches, but this was an especially bad one: 16 runs in 11 1⁄3 innings spanning three starts, with six homers allowed and a 1/8 K/BB ratio. He shed 0.6 fWAR in those three starts alone. Two of them, of course, came against the Braves.
Biggest play: Probably Chipper’s homer, but this really wasn’t the type of game with one defining play. The defining thing was all those solo homers Glavine allowed.
The game, in context of the season: The Braves improved their MLB-best record and pushed their division lead to 4.5 games for the first time all season. They won 101 games in 2003, and at this point, were well past the point of having to look back for any reason. The Mets fell to 24-30, en route to a 66-win season. The terrible season cost longtime Mets GM Steve Phillips his job in mid-June; his replacement, Jim Duquette, had a disastrously brief tenure and resigned at the end of the 2004 season. Phillips had presided over five straight winning seasons to start his tenure, including two playoff appearances and a World Series loss; 1.5 losing seasons was enough to get him canned.
As mentioned, Maddux really got better from here on out, posting an ERA- and FIP- in the low 80s after this start, as opposed to values of over 100 through this start. Glavine, meanwhile, endured a tough first season away from Atlanta — his 1.3 fWAR was his lowest since his nine-start debut season in 1987. He improved in later seasons with the Mets, only falling below the 2 fWAR threshold in his final season in New York (2007). His abortive return to Atlanta in 2008 was his only sub-replacement season.
Video? This would have been a fun one.
Anything else? A half-hour rain delay preceded the game. This game was heavily marketed for how relatively lame it was in terms of starter performance. One reason for that marketing — pitcher wins. Maddux won his 277th, Glavine remained stuck at 247. The 523 combined wins for this matchup was the most in any game since 1992, when Nolan Ryan (319 wins) faced Frank Tanana(nananana Batman; 230 wins). This was also the day when David Cone finally announced his retirement, given that his attempt at one more go-around was a complete disaster to this point: -0.2 fWAR in four starts and one relief appearance.
John Franco’s appearance in this game was his first since going down with a needed Tommy John Surgery late in 2001.
With the four dingers in this game, the Braves accumulated 55 homers in May. That tied an NL record held by the 1947 Giants and 2000 Cardinals. The 1987 Orioles, meanwhile, held the overall monthly record with 58 at that point. Of course, those records have all been shattered with the juiced ball, the launch angle revolution, and so on. In April 2019, the Brewers set the new NL record at 57 (the Braves would hit 56 in June 2019). In August of that year, the Yankees would shatter the MLB record, then at 60 (Mariners, April 2019), with 74 in August.
Rafael Furcal went 0-for-5 in this game, the first time he failed to reach base in over a month. In that span of 167 PAs, Furcal had a 161 wRC+, a .231 ISO, and more walks than strikeouts. The 2003 Braves were fun.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 30: This was the date, in 1911, of the first Indianapolis 500 race. Apparently, the reason why 500 miles was chosen for this event is because that was the longest distance organizers figured could be managed before darkness descended on the track, since there wasn’t really good outdoor lighting yet. Ray Harroun won the $25,000 purse in a Marmon, which is not a woodland creature. The victory of a domestic driver and car in the event drove European automakers to intensify development efforts, leading to foreign winners of the event from 1913 through 1916, before World War I cancelled the 1917 and 1918 races.