- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

NEW YORK — As great as he’s been during a Hall-of-Fame career, Tom Glavine has always been forced to play second fiddle to his pitching mates.

The man owns 290 career victories, yet he’s never really been his own team’s ace. Not in Atlanta, where Greg Maddux earned that distinction, and not in New York, where Pedro Martinez grabs all the headlines.

Perhaps Glavine is finally about to get his due recognition at the ripe old age of 40. With Martinez shelved until next summer because of a torn rotator cuff, the crafty old left-hander has at long last been dubbed ace of the Mets. And he’s responded with some of the best performances of his life.

Glavine’s latest gem came last night. He tossed seven innings of shutout ball and rejoiced with the rest of his teammates when Carlos Beltran clubbed a two-run homer off Jeff Weaver to give the Mets a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

In a dynamite pitchers’ duel, Glavine outlasted Weaver. The veteran scattered four hits and two walks and never allowed a man to reach third base in extending his postseason scoreless-inning streak to 13.

Throw in six shutout innings against the Washington Nationals in his regular-season finale, and Glavine hasn’t surrendered a run in his last 19 innings. He’s put a total of 15 men on base over that span.

“I’ve never had a postseason where I haven’t been surrounded with a pitching staff where you have three or four guys who could be your No. 1 starter,” he said. “I understand the feeling that the guys have when I take the mound now. But that doesn’t mean I take the mound trying to do anything different. … My game is my game, and that doesn’t change because I do or don’t have Pedro or Orlando [Hernandez] or Maddux or [John] Smoltz or anybody else behind me.”

Glavine, who made his record-tying 34th career postseason start, wasn’t alone in giving the Mets the early edge in this series. Beltran supplied the offense with his sixth-inning blast off Weaver. Guillermo Mota and Billy Wagner closed things out by escaping two-outs jams with the tying run at the plate in the eighth and ninth.

But Glavine was the star of the night, outshining everyone else in uniform and earning every ovation he got from the sellout crowd of 56,311 at Shea Stadium.

“Tommy was superb tonight,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “He’s got a lot of experience in the postseason, and he wants the ball. He got us off on the right foot tonight.”

The evening began with a brief tribute to Cory Lidle (the Yankees pitcher who died in a plane crash Wednesday) and former Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil (who died last week). The two fallen players received a moment of silence, but solemnity quickly morphed into exultation when ex-Met Darryl Strawberry walked to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

After a day of grieving, baseball was once again the order of business.

For Mets fans, that meant keeping a watchful eye on left fielder Cliff Floyd and his sore left Achilles’ tendon. It didn’t take long to realize there was a serious problem.

Floyd, who had to convince Randolph to include him on the roster, could barely make it down the baseline in his first at-bat and had to be removed after only two innings. His status is officially “day-to-day,” but few would be surprised if he doesn’t return to the lineup at all.

“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow when he comes in,” Randolph said.

Of course, if the Mets continue to get the kind of dominant pitching they got from Glavine last night, they may not miss Floyd’s potent bat. The lefty was brilliant in shutting down the Cardinals, throwing five straight strikes to open the game and then striking out Albert Pujols on a wicked changeup.

He got a couple of fortuitous breaks early on when St. Louis ran itself out of back-to-back innings, but it’s not like he really needed them. He was on cruise control all night, making it through the seventh with only 89 pitches to his name. He probably could have kept on going, but Randolph pulled him after that, mindful that Glavine is due to start Game 5 on short rest.

His counterpart last night, Weaver, was just as dominant … for five innings. Once a budding star, now an a run-of-the-mill starter, the lanky right-hander had the Mets baffled most of the night. Coming off five shutout innings against the San Diego Padres in the NL Division Series, he tossed five more and carried a one-hitter into the sixth.

“It pains me … to suggest that [Weaver] is a losing pitcher,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “He was equally as good. Jeff was outstanding. So was Glavine.”

Weaver’s collapse, though, was swift. With two outs in the sixth, he surrendered a single to Paul Lo Duca, bringing Beltran to the plate. The Mets slugger worked the count to 2-2, then turned on an inside fastball and belted it off the right-field scoreboard, a 430-foot blast that left the stadium bouncing up and down in jubilation.

It was Beltran’s ninth homer in 16 career postseason games, five of them coming against the Cardinals.

“Every time you do something in October, it means a lot,” he said.

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