08/07/2004 10:35 PM ET
No. 300 is a team win for Maddux
Teammates share in excitement of pitcher's feat
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Kent Mercker was in the visiting clubhouse Saturday when he realized it was just him and Greg Maddux -- and that Maddux was a couple outs away from winning his 300th career game.
Catcher Paul Bako (right) saved the ball that Greg Maddux tossed to strike out Marquis Grissom and end the Giants' third inning. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)
"I said, 'I'm going to be the first guy to shake your hand,'" said Mercker, one of five Cubs relievers to pitch Saturday in Maddux's milestone 8-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants. "I said, 'I don't care who comes in -- unless it's your family -- I'm going to be the first guy.' It's cool to me."
And he was. Maddux became the 22nd player in Major League history to win 300 career games and he did it with a lot of help from his teammates.
Maddux lasted five-plus innings and Mercker pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief, then had to leave the game when his back stiffened up. Both were in the clubhouse watching as LaTroy Hawkins closed the game. Was Maddux nervous?
"No," Mercker said.
Was Mercker nervous?
"Yes," he said. "If (Maddux) was nervous, it sure didn't look like it. I was nervous."
"(Cubs reliever Mike Remlinger) and 'Merck' have both played with him and you knew they wanted to get it for (Maddux)," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "They're all pretty close. It's something even more special because they've been around him. 'Merck' kind of came up with him. I knew he had a little more adrenaline going today. It's fitting, too."
Remlinger, Mercker and Maddux were all teammates in Atlanta and now find themselves together again in Chicago. This is Maddux's second turn with the Cubs. He began his career with Chicago, departed after the 1992 season to pitch with Atlanta and then returned in February just 11 wins shy of 300.
"I would rather see him go nine (innings) but just to be here and witness possibly the last guy to win 300 games and have my name in the box score, that's something I'll look back at -- and knowing him as well as I know him, I'm proud of that," said Mercker, who has been part of two no-hitters himself.
Maddux didn't leap into his teammates' arms after the final out was made. He didn't even go onto the field. He was in the clubhouse, watching.
"He wasn't on the bench, he was inside," Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "It was just business as usual for him."
"That's why he's got 300 because he controls his emotions," Mercker said of the 38-year-old right-hander. "When he pitches, you don't know if he's losing or winning. That's how he is on the field, off the field, on the golf course, everywhere. He's the same guy."
And his teammates have come to learn how much Maddux believes in the whole concept of "team."
"This is different than anything I've been a part of," Rothschild said. "He's so unassuming, you wonder what really happened.
"You'd like to see him run through a game and be out there but this is more fitting," Rothschild said. "It's the type of person he is and the way he's grinded things out. It says something about him."
"To win 300 games you've got to have a lot of help," Maddux said. "I've played on a lot of good teams over the years and a lot of times you're only as good as the guy who is behind you. Today was an example of that."
Which is why Maddux's glove-maker Wilson is creating a special edition 300-win glove, which he can give to his friends and teammates for helping him reach the goal. The Cubs also plan on having 30 dugout lineup cards made up for the players and coaches from Saturday's game.
"It's probably going to sink in at the end of the season or the end of my career. I'll look back and say one of my jobs was to catch for him and it's definitely a privilege and an honor."
-- Paul Bako
The rosin bag, the Giants' lineup card and a game ball were authenticated and will likely end up in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Maddux wanted to keep his batting helmet, batting gloves and bat from the game, while each of the umpires received an authenticated game-used ball. The Cubs also kept their dugout lineup card.
These are historic souvenirs from a key moment in baseball history.
"You knew he was going to be good," said Cubs bench coach Dick Pole, who has been Maddux's coach in the minor leagues, winter ball and the Major Leagues. "It was just a matter of staying healthy.
"He's unlike a lot of guys," Pole said. "The time he spends in the weight room, he's doing his legs and not his upper body. There was concern early on about him being able to handle the load of starting pitching. He's done his stuff through throwing than the other physical lifting. He's amazing."
Maddux has taught catcher Paul Bako a thing or two. Bako has become Maddux's personal catcher again this season -- the two were together in Atlanta in 2001. Maddux won 17 games that season.
"He didn't have his best stuff (Saturday)," Bako said of the right-hander, who gave up four runs on seven hits over five-plus innings. "Obviously, he pitched good enough and changed speeds good enough to win the ballgame. He's done that numerous times. He's also gone out there and thrown some 1-0 games. That's a key to his success, to limit his pitches and stay in the ballgame long enough to let his team win the ballgame."
All the attention in the last few weeks has bothered Maddux. He was worried his pursuit of 300 would be a distraction for the team.
"It's a cliche, but he's the consummate team guy," Bako said. "I think he's excited and more so relieved that he can move on and everybody can focus on the team and focus on the Cubs getting to the playoffs. I wouldn't be surprised if he goes on a roll here.
"He didn't have the 300 wins on his agenda," Bako said. "He'll go about his business now the way he likes to and I'm sure his next goal will be to win 15 games this year and get us to the playoffs."
By the way, Bako saved the ball which Maddux threw to strike out Marquis Grissom and end the Giants' third inning, stranding a runner at third.
"It's probably going to sink in at the end of the season or the end of my career," Bako said of the significance of Saturday's game. "I'll look back and say one of my jobs was to catch for him and it's definitely a privilege and an honor."
That honor stuff goes so far with teammates. Maddux was doused by the Cubs players with beer and champagne in the clubhouse after his media session.
"He's a sincere man," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of Maddux.
Which is probably why Maddux credited everyone but himself for Saturday's win. Moises Alou made a great running catch and hit a two-run home run. Corey Patterson belted a two-run homer. Todd Walker hit a big two-run double.
"It was a team victory," Baker said.
"You can't put your own personal achievements ahead of the win," Maddux said. "You do what you can to give your team the best chance to win. If you do that you can sleep good at night. When you put yourself ahead of the team, sometimes it's a little hard."
"I was just glad to be a part of it," Patterson said. "Just like he said, as long as you can come to the park and contribute, then you can sleep good at night. That's what I try to do every day and I think that's what he does. That's what we all do and that's why we're doing well this year and I think that's why we got the 300th win for him today."
Maddux's next start will be Friday at Wrigley Field when the Cubs play host to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Expect the right-hander to receive a warm welcome home.
"It feels good just to be able to play this game for as long as I have," he said. "It's a good gig. When you can pitch every fifth day and have four days off in between -- trust me, it's good. It really is. Just to be able to be in the game for as long as I have is pretty special. That's what it's all about."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.