Artist Maddux brushes off O's Braves ace's 4-hitter hands O's 9-0 loss, first shutout this year

June 08, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The moving exhibit headed back to the South yesterday afternoon. The Atlanta Braves packed Greg Maddux in ice, grabbed their second win in three games and reached for a piece of Orioles' pride to go.

In a performance better described as art and admired even by his victims, Maddux handed the Orioles their first shutout in a major-league-best 129 games, a four-hit composition that ended before 48,090 at Camden Yards. The Braves pounded out 14 hits, including three home runs, while Maddux dominated a cool, blustery afternoon that completed the most-attended three-game series in stadium history.

"There are five or six game plans with Greg Maddux. When he's on, none of them work," Orioles manager Ray Miller said.

Facing only three more than the minimum 27 hitters, the four-time Cy Young Award winner (9-2) won his seventh consecutive decision with his second shutout in three starts, a 100-pitch masterpiece that included one outfield putout, four strikeouts and 20 ground-ball outs. The airtight effort was Maddux's 41st complete game as a Brave and raised his record to 90-27 since the 1993 All-Star break. He entered yesterday's game with a 1.85 ERA and left it with a 1.69 ERA.

"He might have been this much better than usual," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, holding his thumb and index finger a half-inch apart. "He's amazing. No matter how often you see it, it's amazing."

All this in a claustrophobic ballpark against a lineup with a long-ball mentality. Questions over strategy elicited a knowing grin.

"You do what you do best. Pitch the way you know how to pitch," Maddux said. "You make them hit you. I don't know those guys based on last year. Just make good pitches. Don't try to get too smart."

Maddux already is plenty smart enough.

He asks more questions of his team's hitting coach, Clarence Jones, than pitching coach Leo Mazzone because he already knows how a pitcher thinks. He throws only four warm-up tosses between innings, works rapid fire and revels in taking batting practice and shagging fly balls on days he pitches.

"I get ready the day before. I trust myself to be ready when it's time," he explained. "Hey, it's fun. Camden Yards at 70 degrees on a day game. Sometimes you can forget to enjoy it. I'm serious when I'm pitching, but I don't want to burn out before the game even starts."

The Orioles were last shut out last July 20 by the Chicago White Sox's Jaime Navarro. They had been held to one run five times this season. Yesterday they had no chance.

"I guess if somebody's going to do it, it's going to be that guy," Miller said. "He put on a clinic. I don't think we hit a ball out of the infield. He's a master at working both sides of the plate, changing speeds and sinking the ball."

Orioles starter Doug Drabek (5-6) became the foil. He lasted only three innings and suffered his second loss since April 27 for surrendering five runs on nine hits, including the first of two home runs by first baseman Andres Galarraga. Braves leadoff hitter Walt Weiss came to the plate three times before Orioles No. 7 hitter Cal Ripken had his first at-bat.

History then declared the game over. Dating to June 26, 1991, Maddux is 73-2 when he's backed by five runs or more.

For the 44-19 Braves, this has become routine. For the Orioles, who already have used 17 pitchers this season, yesterday was an instructional video.

"I tell our pitchers that there are three things you can leave the bullpen with -- velocity, movement and location," pitching coach Mike Flanagan said. "He leaves the bullpen with two every time, location and movement. If ever there was a case you could show a young pitcher that throwing hard isn't the answer, he is it."

Maddux doesn't just "paint," he does so with a variety of brushes and pastels. In his past four starts, he has struck out 27 against two walks.

The Orioles dutifully tried to attack Maddux on his first pitch. They scraped together one hit apiece in the third, fourth, sixth and eighth innings. Only two leadoff hitters reached, and Maddux compensated for one by inducing an inning-ending double play. The Orioles pushed a mere two runners into scoring position -- both during a promising fourth inning -- but were slapped down when Rafael Palmeiro struck out after enjoying a 3-1 count and Roberto Alomar grounded to the mound.

"He's a good pitcher," Alomar said. After pausing, Alomar added, "He's a great pitcher."

Maddux made the point against Palmeiro. With the Orioles trailing 5-0 with runners at second and third and one out in the fourth, he threw Palmeiro a 3-2 changeup that disappeared below the first baseman's bat. Strike three.

"I think Palmeiro is their best hitter overall," Maddux said. "He was the guy I picked today not to let hurt me. I wasn't going to throw him a strike. I had a base open. That's their man. As far as I'm concerned, that's their No. 1 hitter. I didn't want to give into him."

Palmeiro could only offer praise after failing to push a ball out of the infield in three at-bats.

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