- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

He doesn’t have a menacing nickname like “the Rocket” or “the Big Unit.” He doesn’t have a fastball that makes batters’ knees weak, a physically intimidating presence or a larger-than-life personality.

All he does is get ahead in the count, paint corners and leave hitters looking stupid.

And win.

And win.

Greg Maddux brings his 307 victories into his first outing at RFK Stadium this afternoon when the Washington Nationals play the Chicago Cubs, and the 39-year-old right-hander has not shown any signs of ending his certain Hall of Fame career soon.

“I like my job,” said Maddux, who has a 2-1 record with a 3.80 ERA. “I have always felt privileged to be overpaid and underworked. It is a great job. I like the game. I like my teammates. I like the atmosphere. I like the competition.”

The four-time National League Cy Young Award winner doesn’t have a signature pitch, and his fastball peaks in the upper 80s. The 6-foot, 180-pounder simply has been a model of consistency. Baseball’s understated statesman is the only player in major league history to win 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons.

The streak began in his first full season when he went 18-8 with a 3.88 ERA for the Cubs in 1988. Since then, he has pitched more than 200 innings every season but one, when he threw 1991/3 with Atlanta in 2002. He also owns the big league record for the longest stretch without a walk, 721/3 innings in 2001.

“He plays to his strengths, and he doesn’t give in to the hitters,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “He knows about pitching and knows about hitters. He can put a little on [and] take a little off. He teases the hitter.”

Maddux does it with a kitchen sink full of pitches, including several fastballs, changeup, slider and curve. However, it is his masterful setting up and control that make him one of only 22 pitchers to win 300 games. The master painter spends an excessive amount of time watching videotapes of himself and hitters.

Maddux crushes opponents by winning mind games.

“Deception is as much a part of power as anything,” said Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who believes the trickery starts in his release. “He has a great ability to foresee everything that is going on around him. Now he is able to go out and grind out his starts and figure things out. And he is not afraid to make adjustments as he goes.”

Maddux, who started the season with a 305-174 record and a 2.95 ERA, has maintained a low-key attitude and drawn little attention away from the diamond. While Roger Clemens — baseball’s only other active 300-game winner — has a Texas-size persona to match his game, Maddux often is viewed as aloof.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker changed his opinion on the quiet hurler after Maddux came back to Chicago as a free agent last season after spending 11 seasons and winning 194 games and a World Series with the Braves.

“On the other side, I thought he was a kind of cocky, kind of an arrogant guy,” said Baker, who took over the Cubs in 2003 after managing the San Francisco Giants. “But he is probably one of the most humble, respectful stars that I can remember in a long time. He respects the game. He respects the person of authority. He wants to win big-time. On the field he is one way, but off the field he is another way. He is a big-time student of the game. Whatever he might have lost [with age], he gained in knowledge and wisdom.”

Maddux downplays his reputation as being a different strategist than early in his career — although other changes have made his job more difficult.

“I do the same things now I did 15 years ago, just not as fast,” said Maddux, who won his fourth consecutive Cy Young in 1995 with a 19-2 record and 1.63 ERA. “Hitters are much stronger now. They cover the outside part of the plate much better, and they have power to all fields. At the beginning, you had to pull it to get a home run.

“You used to be able to give up three runs and have a chance to win. Now it’s four or five. That’s really the difference. You don’t compensate for anything. With the new strike zone and the way hitters are, what took you seven innings to do now takes you six. You don’t pitch as long as you would like to, but at the same time you give up more runs than you used to.”

Maddux went 62/3 innings in a 7-0 win over the New York Mets in his last start. His other win came against Clemens and Houston. Maddux has gone at least six innings — with a high of eight — and allowed more than two runs only once in his last five starts.

The crafty righty, who in 1994 and 1995 pitched a career high of 10 complete games, went 16-11 with a 4.02 ERA and two complete games last season. While he doesn’t go the distance as often, he remains effective in shorter stints because of a strong regimen to keep his mind and body sharp.

One of the first things he did after arriving in Washington was to scout out RFK Stadium.

“I like the older stadiums,” he said. “I love Wrigley, and I like Fenway and Dodger Stadium. I like places that have been around and have a lot of character. I think this place has it. … I just kind of look around, look at the atmosphere, the architecture and all that stuff. Then you start looking at the fences, at the foul territory, where the bullpens are, the best way to get to the parking lot.”

The professor undoubtedly took mental notes he will exploit today, using the information in subtle ways and special situations.

“You still pitch the same way whether it is Colorado or Wrigley with the wind blowing,” the eight-time All-Star said. “You don’t change.”

Maddux grew up in Las Vegas and is making his first visit to the nation’s capital. He has seen the White House and the Lincoln Memorial among other landmarks and monuments. But today he plans to continue making his own history, the baseball variety.

Maddux, who plans on playing as long as he is having fun, leads the majors over the last 17 years with 297 wins and 3,9942/3 innings pitched. The numbers are staggering, but Maddux doesn’t have time to reflect on them now.

“When I’m done, it will mean a lot to me,” he said. “Right now I am just worried about my next start.”

Which comes today.

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