Fab Braves can pitch 8 days a week

October 30, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

ATLANTA -- They're the Beatles of starting pitching. And when John failed to hit a high note, they simply turned the microphone over to Paul, with George waiting to go next.

"We faced three aces," Cleveland's Orel Hershiser said. "The ace of aces in Maddux, Ace No. 2 in Glavine, and Ace No. 3 in Smoltz."

Greg, Tom and John -- and don't forget Ringo, er, Steve.

They got by with a little help from their friends.

Got back to where they once belonged.

Who cares if Maddux couldn't finish off Cleveland in Game 5? Glavine, the winningest pitcher in the majors the past five seasons, completed the job Saturday night, and became Series MVP.

So fitting.

So Braves.

They're not only world champions, but they're also the first team in Series history to throw a one-hitter and two-hitter in the same Series.

Maddux delivered the two-hitter in Game 1. Glavine and Mark Wohlers combined on the one-hitter in Game 6.

The Braves weren't as dominant as the Orioles who shut out the Dodgers in the final three games of the '66 Series. But they weren't far off.

Let it be, Cleveland.

This is the best four-man rotation in World Series history, and one of the best in major-league history. If people didn't understand before, they do now.

How good are the Braves starters?

They finished 7-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 14 postseason starts against hard-hitting Colorado, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

And they were the major reason the Indians batted .179 in six games, the eighth-lowest team average in Series history.

The eighth-lowest average, by a team that batted .291 in the regular season, the highest of any club in 45 years.

Greg, Tom, John and Steve.

It's the best quartet since the 1971 Orioles produced four 20-game winners -- Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson.

And it's the best quartet in Series history, simply because three-man rotations were the norm when starters worked on three days' rest instead of four.

The Fab Four is now 7-4 with a 2.52 ERA in 18 career Series starts, having allowed three earned runs or fewer in 15 of those games.

Great trios?

There have been great trios.

Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing and Monte Pearson went 13-1 for the New York Yankees from 1936 to '39.

Eddie Lopat, Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi went 15-6 for the Yankees from 1949 to '53.

And Palmer, Cuellar and McNally were 10-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 21 career Series starts.

The difference with the Braves is they've got four starters -- and their No. 5, Kent Mercker, has thrown a no-hitter and contributed to another.

Throw in Wohlers, and where does this staff rank?

"I think you have to go back a little bit to the Dodgers -- Sutton, Drysdale, Koufax and Osteen, with Perranoski out of the pen," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.

"The Yankees in '77 with Figueroa and Guidry was a very class starting rotation, along with Sparky Lyle out of the pen. This is one of the best staffs you could ever be around. It's maybe the best of all those I named."

Cox didn't mention the '71 Orioles, probably because their bullpen wasn't as formidable. But the similarities between the Braves' rotation and that one are almost eerie.

Palmer was 25 then, just like Steve Avery. Dobson was 29, just like Maddux. McNally was 28, just like Smoltz.

Mike Cuellar, the oldest of the Orioles' starters, was 34. Glavine, the oldest of the Braves' starters, is 29.

Both rotations featured two left-handers and two right-handers. And both had pitching coaches who encouraged frequent throwing between starts.

"There was never a lot of pressure," said Palmer, who broadcast the Series for ABC. "You'd look over on the bench when you were pitching, and there was Cuellar, McNally and Dobson."

It's the same with the Braves.

"After we took a 3-1 lead, we knew they would have to beat Greg, myself and Smoltz to get the title," Glavine said. "We just didn't think they were going to do that."

The Braves' starters play golf together, just like the Orioles' did. They're in constant competition, trying to determine who's best.

Still, these are different times.

"Everything's changed," Palmer said. "McNally won 20 games in '68, and got a $20,000 raise. You were looking at $1,000 a win. That's why you pitched complete games."

The Braves have no such incentive. Their Fab Four has produced only five 20-win seasons -- three fewer than Palmer. Yet, they earned a combined $19 million this season.

Four 20-game winners in one year? Forget it. The closest the Braves came to that feat was in '93, when Glavine won 22, Maddux 20, Avery 18 and Smoltz 15.

The past two seasons were strike-shortened. And the added emphasis on relief pitching today makes it less urgent for starters to pitch deep into games.

Still, there's no detracting from what the Braves have accomplished, especially in an era when pitchers so often are injured. The Fab Four has combined to miss four starts the past four years, one because of arm trouble.

They're so good, and Maddux is so dominant, people frequently overlook Glavine. Cox enjoys pointing out that Glavine won 20 games three straight years. In six Series starts, Glavine is now 4-2 with a 1.83 ERA.

Greg, Tom, John and Steve -- the Beatles of starting pitching.

Rubber arms, rubber souls.

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