04/01/08 2:03 AM ET
It's like he never left
Braves fans welcome Glavine back with open arms
By Jon Cooper / Special to MLB.com
Glavine did not disappoint, and the ovations were loud and frequent from the hometown fans.
"It was great," said Glavine of the adulation from the crowd. "It's hard to totally hear down there in the bullpen when you're warming up, but it seemed like it was really good and one of the better ones. I just keep pitching well and it will continue that way."
From the moment No. 47 took the mound and repeatedly gouged a groove in the clay in front of the far left edge of the rubber, it seemed that order had been restored to the baseball universe in Atlanta. For five long years, Braves fans saw their heroes open the season without Glavine -- once even suffering the indignity of having him pitch against, and beat, the home team.
But on this night, certainly for the first five innings, everything seemed right again.
"It's nice to go out there and be here and be around town, and have people enjoying seeing you and enjoying seeing you back in that uniform and not some of the anger that was evident over the last five years," said Glavine.
It may have been his 506th career start for Atlanta, but it was his first since Sept. 28, 2002, and it was special.
Their favorite son had returned home. The fans lived and died with each pitch and made their displeasure perfectly clear with home-plate umpire Joe West whenever he did not call a close pitch a strike.
In his seventh career Braves home opener (he's now 3-2 with two no-decisions) and fourth at Turner Field (he's 1-1 with two no-decisions) -- it's 8-5 if you count the home opener he pitched for the Mets against Atlanta in 2004, but Braves fans really don't count that one -- Glavine lacked his signature pinpoint control, missing with five of his first six pitches and throwing first-pitch strikes to only five of the 22 Pittsburgh hitters he faced.
But he showed that he still had the competitive fire of "the Glavine of old," and the ability to make the big pitch when he needed to.
"His game is to get those strikes," said catcher Brian McCann. "You could tell in the first inning he was a little nervous, but at the same time, they probably shouldn't have scored a run."
"That's my style of pitching," said Glavine, who allowed only one earned run and has still not allowed more than two runs in any starts since Spring Training began. "Obviously, I'd like to pitch ahead more than I did tonight and I want to throw more strikes than I did tonight, but there are going to be certain nights that are like that.
"It's important for me when I get in those games not to give in and not to start trying to pitch to the strike zone, so to speak. I have to maintain a mentality that I'm one good pitch away from getting out of the inning, and tonight, I was able to do that. It's helpful to know that I've done it, and I have the confidence in myself to do it when I get in those situations."
Only an error by second baseman Kelly Johnson kept him from escaping a first and third, one-out jam in the second inning. In the third, with a runner at second, he went inside at 2-2, freezing Jason Bay, who took the called strike. Then two hitters later, with runners on first and third, Glavine went to the outside edge at 1-2, leaving Xavier Nady in the cold and stranding two more runners. The Pirates left six men on base from the second through the fifth innings, and they had another cut down at home plate.
Glavine drew a standing ovation when he came to bat in the third inning, and he got an even bigger applause when he drew a five-pitch walk from Pirates starter Ian Snell, who was 5 years old when Glavine began his Major League career. The walk opened the door for a three-run inning that give the Braves a 3-1 lead, with Glavine scoring in front of Johnson on a Yunel Escobar two-run triple.
"I try to go up there and not be an automatic out," said Glavine, whose teams had been 4-0 in Braves home openers at Turner Field when he either scored or drove in a run. "At least make the pitcher throw me three or four pitches, and at least try to help the team that way. It just so happens that I worked a walk and we got a big hit after that. So that always helps."
When he left, the 42-year-old lefty had a 4-2 lead and had gutted out five innings, allowing two runs, only one of them earned, and seven hits. He had thrown 97 pitches, 52 for strikes, which, on this chilly April night, was enough for Braves manager Bobby Cox.
"Tommy pitched super," said Cox. "He just had a lot of pitches, but he pitched good. It's always good to see Tommy on your side. I'm just sorry we couldn't hold the lead for him."
Pittsburgh would cash in against the bullpen, tallying a run in each of the next two innings, including an unearned run in the seventh, to take away Glavine's win.
"A lot of strange things happened," Glavine said, nearly five hours after he threw his first pitch. "Tonight was one of those nights where you had to expect the unexpected, but I think the end result was disappointing. But this early in the year, it's a little bit easier to shrug it off, enjoy the off-day and come back here Wednesday ready to go."
But there is a lot of season left, and a lot more starts for Glavine, who, beginning in 1996, has averaged 34 starts a season. And only once in his career has he been unable to make at least 32 starts in a 162-game season (in 1989, when he made 29).
Monday night was only the beginning of what should be his and the city's new "Summer of Love."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.