09/30/2003 8:15 PM ET
Confident Hampton ready to go
ATLANTA -- Before the 2001 season, when Mike Hampton made the ill-fated decision of signing with the Rockies, he had the opportunity to sign lucrative deals that would have landed him with the Cubs or Braves.
Hampton's decision made him very rich and at the same time, led him into the thin Rocky Mountain air, where he saw his career free-fall. The career demise in the offensively friendly environment left him wondering if one day he might have the opportunity to ever again return to the postseason excellence he displayed while winning 2000 NLCS MVP with the Mets.
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
But the competitive southpaw's whole future changed on a Saturday afternoon last November, when Braves general manager John Schuerholz completed a financially savvy deal that brought Hampton from the Rockies, via the Marlins, to Atlanta, where playoff baseball is an annual ritual.
"From the first day of Spring Training, you get a sense of it," Hampton said about the Braves' winning attitude. "This whole organization is about winning and they've done it well for a long time. You feed off that and want to be a part of that, and be a plus, as opposed to a negative for the team."
Hampton, who went 14-8 with a 3.84 ERA this year, has certainly been a huge plus for the Braves, who will send their rejuvenated southpaw to the mound to face the Cubs in Game 2 of the Division Series at Turner Field on Wednesday night.
Last year at this time Hampton was forced to begin hunting season early with the burden of knowing he had just posted a 6.15 ERA. But all the while, he felt given the opportunity to get back in the right environment that he would once again achieve the same success that had been present during his days with the Astros and Mets.
"I've never lacked confidence and I've got a pretty good stream of confidence right now," said Hampton, who reclaimed his patented sinker and posted a 2.49 ERA in his final 11 regular-season starts this year.
Hampton, who allowed five earned runs in 7 1/3 innings while winning his only start against the Cubs this year, enters Wednesday's start with the obvious knowledge that minimizing Sammy Sosa is the priority.
After struggling early in his career against Hampton, the All-Star right fielder has seven hits, including five homers, in his last nine at-bats against the Braves southpaw.
"If I can pick one thing, I would say he's a little more patient," Hampton said of Sosa's recent success. "He swings at better pitches, and when you face a guy like that, with his caliber of talent, you have to keep the ball in the middle zone and go with your best stuff. If you doubt yourself one second, that's when he's got you. He's made some adjustments and, in turn, it's time for me to make adjustments as well."
Hampton has already made the necessary adjustments to redirect his career. Now all he must do is prove that he, Greg Maddux and Russ Ortiz are just as capable as the Cubs' starting staff that has been receiving all the hype this week.
"I let my actions on the field speak for themselves," Hampton said. "All the papers and media can say what they want. They have an incredible pitching staff that has done really well this year. When you go into the postseason, you wipe the slate clean."
Hampton has also already proven capable of doing that.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or