SAN FRANCISCO - Like a plane flying under the radar, Greg Maddux tried to sneak to his locker without notice late yesterday afternoon at SBC Park.
But Maddux was quickly ambushed by a dozen Chicago Cubs teammates who had been waiting for this moment for a week. Kerry Wood popped the first champagne cork, and in a matter of seconds, Maddux was drenched and drained at the same time.
On a cloudless afternoon in the heat of a playoff race, Maddux, 38, had just joined baseball's immortals, earning his 300th career victory in the Cubs' 8-4 victory over the Giants. He became the 22nd pitcher in major league history to reach that plateau, and the first Cubs pitcher to do it since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1924.
Maddux is the first National Leaguer to accomplish the feat since Philadelphia's Steve Carlton in 1983. Roger Clemens was the last to do it on his fourth attempt for the New York Yankees on June 13 last season.
"It's pretty special," Maddux said. "I like to look ahead. I've never really looked back. When I'm done playing I'll look back."
Surrounded by his family, friends and teammates, Maddux had a day to celebrate. But, as everyone knows well, Maddux isn't exactly the celebrating type. So he left it to everyone else to soak in the atmosphere.
It took two tries and a comeback from a three-run deficit yesterday for Maddux to reach the 300-win mark, making it difficult for his family to stay calm.
Maddux left in the sixth with a 6-3 lead, no outs and two runners on, bumping fists with manager Dusty Baker. But Maddux didn't acknowledge the cheering, sellout crowd as he headed to the clubhouse to wait out his fate.
"I was so nervous and so excited," said Dave Maddux, Greg's father. "I saw him after the game and asked him if he was nervous. He said, `No, not really.' One of us had to be nervous. It's probably best that it was me. It was a great win, and a great team effort, because he didn't pitch real well. But the bullpen came in and, boy, I got so nervous then."
But the Cubs' bullpen allowed Dave's son a moment to cherish.
Jon Leicester and Kent Mercker escaped the jam with Chicago ahead 6-4. Mercker retired Ray Durham on a pop-up to end the sixth inning.
Kyle Farnsworth got Dustan Mohr to ground out with the bases loaded in the eighth.
"It was a total team effort," said Maddux, who was quickly joined by his wife and children. "It was great to see."
Instead of overpowering hitters like such fellow 300 Club members as Clemens, Carlton and Nolan Ryan, Maddux has always been able to disrupt hitters' timing by changing speeds and locating his fastball.
What's the one thing that separates Maddux from his peers?
"His preparation," Baker said. "He's as prepared and studies as well as a anybody I've ever been around. He asks a lot of questions. He asks questions that sometimes you'd think he would know. But he's trying to learn all the time."
No. 300 came nearly 18 years after his first major league win on Sept. 7, 1986, when the 20-year-old rookie scattered 11 hits to beat Cincinnati and become the youngest Cubs pitcher to win a game - along with the youngest to throw a complete game - since a 20-year-old Ken Holtzman did it in 1966.
Jim Colborn, who had been Maddux's pitching coach at Triple-A Iowa, predicted that day against the Cincinnati Reds that Maddux would be someone to watch for years to come.
"He's not a strikeout pitcher and he probably won't ever win 25 or 30 games in the big leagues," Colborn said. "But ... he's a good competitor and he's fun to watch, especially knowing that he's just finished his paper route a couple of years ago."
On the first day of spring training, Maddux signed with the Cubs again after 11 years away, a deal that could earn him $24 million over three years.
He has been low-key about his pursuit of 300 wins. According to his father, he's been low-key since his Little League days, preferring to observe the world around him while others would be talking about themselves.
"A lot of that has to do with the fact that basically he's very bashful and timid," Dave Maddux said. "He just kind of downplays everything. ... But I believe when he gets older and he looks back on his career, he'll say `I had a pretty good career.'"
Pretty good, indeed.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
(Through yesterday, x-active)
1. Cy Young 511
2. Walter Johnson 417
3. Grover Cleveland Alexander 373
3. Christy Mathewson 373
5. Warren Spahn 363
6. Pud Galvin 361
7. Kid Nichols 360
8. Tim Keefe 341
9. Steve Carlton 329
10. John Clarkson 327
11. Eddie Plank 326
12. (tie) Nolan Ryan 324
Don Sutton 324
14. x-Roger Clemens 322
15. Phil Niekro 318
16. Gaylord Perry 314
17. Tom Seaver 311
18. Hoss Radbourn 310
19. Mickey Welch 309
20. (tie) Lefty Grove 300
Early Wynn 300
x-Greg Maddux 300
Source: National Baseball Hall of Fame