When the Atlanta Braves concluded their 2002 regular season, and their GM chose to move in a new direction, the Mets promptly signed 37-year old Tom Glavine to a free agent contract.
Regrettably, the relationship between Glavine, the Mets, and fans, started with an immediate point of contention, when it was revealed Glavine apparently thought better of his decision to sign with the Mets, and reportedly contacted the Braves in a last ditch effort to rejoin Atlanta. But, his former club’s position was firm. Glavine would indeed become a Met.
Needless to say, his first two years in Flushing fell short of expectations. In one final stellar season for the Braves, Glavine posted an 18-11 record and 2.96 ERA. Then, almost lugubriously, he started 32 games in his inaugural campaign with the Mets, and struggled with his overall effectiveness, which disappointed many. Glavine posted a 9-14 record, with a lofty 4.52 ERA, in 183.1 innings pitched. In 2004, Glavine only managed marginal improvement. In 33 starts, he won 11 games, but lost another 14 contests – his highest loss totals since his first full season (1988) in the league. His respective two year victory totals were additionally his fewest since 1990. Glavine did, however, post a considerably improved 3.60 ERA in 2004.
Some maintained, if not on the mound, there was still value in signing him, and that the situation was not lost. At this stage of his Mets career, many fans were still somewhat appreciative over Glavine’s arrival. Considering the Mets of 2003 and 2004 were far from competitive, and despite his age, Glavine brought with him considerable cache as a sure future Hall of Fame pitcher. Having Tom Glavine on board also served as a welcome sign for luring other premium major leaguers.
Then came the Omar Minaya years. The new general manager overhauled a starting rotation which featured a fading Al Leiter, Steve Trachsel, Kris Benson, and Jae Weong Seo, and surrounded Tom Glavine with Pedro Martinez, who subsequently broke down, a returning Steve Trachsel, and young trade throw-ins, John Maine, and Oliver Perez. Minaya had not yet acquired Johan Santana. So, Tom Glavine was in effect, the Mets ace for five seasons, which, at his age, was an unfortunate circumstance throughout his time in Flushing, and perhaps a bit unfair as well.
As the team improved under Omar Minaya, so did Tom Glavine’s performance. Over his next two seasons, Glavine put in his best work while donning a Mets uniform. In 2005, Tom posted a 13-13 record, and a 3.53 ERA in 211.1 innings pitched. The 2006 season was his finest, in which he went 15-7 with a 3.82 ERA in 198 innings pitched, and fanned 131 batters.
In early Fall of 2006, Steve Trachsel defeated the Florida Marlins, as the Mets clinched their first National League East flag in 18 years. In the ensuing post-season, Tom Glavine started Game Two of the NLDS versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, and pitched brilliantly over 6 innings, allowing no runs, on just four hits, and fanned two. In the NLDS, Glavine started Game One against the St. Louis Cardinals, and again, pitched brilliantly, this time over 7 innings, allowing no runs, on 4 hits, and again fanned a pair. His next start was Game Five in St. Louis, but Tom did not fare as well this time around, allowing 3 runs on 7 hits, in just 4 innings pitched.
Ultimate defeat in Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS weighed heavily on the organization and fan base. Flushing as a whole wallowed in self-pity. Even today, that devastating loss is still not easily reconcilable, or has yet to be satisfactorily compartmentalized by many. The loss would also set the condition for the following season.
A few years later, in the midst of their successful championship run, Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins revealed the Phillies previously regarded the Mets as the division power that rival teams bowed to, and throughout the 2006 regular season, that may have been true. The same may even be said of the 2007 regular season. The Mets were still overwhelming favorites to win the National League East.
In late summer, Tom Glavine arrived at one of baseball’s hallowed milestones. On August 5, 2007, the first place Mets were visiting Wrigley Field in Chicago, where left-hander Tom Glavine earned his 300th career victory. He was only the 23rd third pitcher in history to do so, and as a left-hander, his 305 overall victories rank 4th all-time. A growing number of baseball experts believe Tom Glavine could conceivably wind up being the last pitcher to ever amass 300 wins in a career.
Entering the final game of the 2007 regular season, Willie Randolph and the New York Mets stood poised to clinch their second straight playoff berth, but not before the lingering disappointment of 2006 had gnawed throughout the year on Willie’s psyche, that of the team’s, and Mets fans alike. Generally speaking though, anyone who still suffered from the pain of 2006, so badly wanted a shot at post-season redemption.
The team also wanted nothing more than to get the media off their backs. By September 30, 2007, their return trip was essentially reduced to a one game play-in versus the Miami Marlins. Win, and the Mets were in the playoffs. With a loss however, the club would potentially incur considerable off-season ramifications, and for good reason. The Mets did not play well down the stretch. Incredulously, they were in the midst of blowing a 7 game division lead.
Tom Glavine climbed the hill in Shea Stadium that Sunday afternoon at the age of 41 – like I said, an unfortunate circumstance that I place at the feet of Omar Minaya. His ERA was on the rise – up by 28 points over his three previous starts. Glavine entered the season’s finale and potential playoff clinching game with a 13-7 record, and a 4.14 ERA, but was fresh off a 5 inning loss in his previous start, in which he allowed 6 earned runs on 9 hits, including 3 home runs. In the start prior to that, he faced the Marlins, and pitched a no-decision, but allowed 4 earned runs on 11 hits, in 5 innings of work.
Immediately upon the umpire’s call to Play Ball, the visiting Marlins tagged Tom Glavine for 7 earned runs on 5 hits, and two walks. He was pulled after just 1/3 of an inning, and walked off the Shea Stadium mound with jeers and boos raining down upon him.
That was the last game Tom Glavine ever pitched as a member of the Mets. In five seasons, Tom averaged 200.2 innings per season, posted an overall 61-56 regular season record, and a 3.96 ERA. However, he will be mostly be remembered for this game, and more so for his overly pragmatic perspective regarding his dismal performance, in light the club’s elimination from the playoff race.
In his post-game comments to the media, it is my opinion Tom Glavine erred when trying to put the loss, and his own dismal performance in too much context. The mistake was not necessarily with his choice of words, and/or his failure in offering remorse. Instead, as a carpetbagger, he needed to understand that a different tact was necessary to satisfy the locals. His level of dejection, or lack there of, was not congruent with that of the fan base. And so, his tenure with the Mets ended the same way it started – contentiously.
Tom Glavine, in all probability, will be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame once this year’s BBWAA ballots get tabulated. Make no mistake, he is most deserving. Of that, there is no denying. If he fails to make it this year, C’est la vie, which is more or less the attitude Glavine adopted after performing so miserably that Sunday afternoon, back on September 30, 2007.
Yes, the Mets collectively blew a seven game lead with seventeen games to go. They all deserved and shared equal blame. Tom Glavine should bear no more responsibility than the next player. But as fate would have it, Tom Glavine was the one who inevitably brought down the curtain on what is now infamously known as, The Collapse.