Old pals Maddux, Smoltz square off

Old pals Maddux, Smoltz square off

ATLANTA -- If you were to ask Greg Maddux to explain the thought process that preceded the 56th pitch that he threw against the Giants on April 25, 1995, there's actually a chance that he'd be able to tell you what prompted him to throw that changeup to Barry Bonds.

When it comes to the mental aspect of pitching, Maddux may have no equals. During the 11 seasons that he spent in Atlanta from 1993-2003, there were numerous occasions when he was able to wow Braves manager Bobby Cox with his incredible memory and ability to intricately dissect opposing hitters.

Yet, when asked Monday afternoon if he remembered anything about the first time he faced John Smoltz on May 16, 1990, Maddux conveniently chose to say he has no memories of the 4-0 win the Braves claimed that day over him and the Cubs.

"I really don't," Maddux said with his usual sly grin apparent. "I remember [Smoltz] talking about it. Who won?"

History will remember the starting rotations the Braves possessed through much of the 1990s as being unique in the sense that it consisted of three Cy Young Award winners, who could one day be reunited into the immortal world provided in Cooperstown.

But those who were in Atlanta from 1993-2002 will know that 10-year period to be unique from the perspective that Tom Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz truly were the best of friends. Although highly competitive, none of them ever allowed jealousy to wreck the incredibly strong bond that continues to exist today.

"I would have had no clue of the legacy that he would leave and have no clue that the greatest 10 years of my life would be spent with [Maddux] and Glavine," Smoltz said. "Memories are exactly that. They flash by so quickly. This is in the category of the unique."

The 'this' that Smoltz is referring to is his Wednesday night matchup against Maddux and the Padres at Turner Field. Countless wins, numerous Cy Young Awards and even a couple of elbow surgeries have been experienced since July 10, 1992, which is the date these two legendary hurlers last opposed each other.

"I think the fans ought to come out and see two Hall of Famers go at it," said Braves manager Bobby Cox on Monday, while uncharacteristically showing excitement about a pitching matchup that was still two days away.

With 335 career wins and four Cy Young Awards (three of which were captured in Atlanta), Maddux finds himself destined for Cooperstown. Three wins shy of becoming the first hurler to ever record 200 wins and notch 150 saves, Smoltz's Cooperstown candidacy seems very strong.

"It was a battle when they were here together," Maddux's former catcher and current Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez said. "One guy would pitch good and the other guy would try to pitch better. It's going to be fun to watch them go against each other like this."

"I would have had no clue of the legacy that [Greg Maddux] would leave and have no clue that the greatest 10 years of my life would be spent with [Maddux] and [Tom] Glavine. Memories are exactly that. They flash by so quickly. This is in the category of the unique."
-- John Smoltz

Other than Phil Niekro, no other right-handed pitchers in Braves franchise history have won more games than Maddux (194) and Smoltz (197). The duo combined to capture every National League Cy Young Award from 1992-96.

As the historical facts are presented, it becomes more apparent that Wednesday night's matchup truly will be unique. And like the three previous matchups that he's had against Glavine, Smoltz enters this matchup with the unbridled excitement that Maddux somehow manages to harness.

"When we did it before, we were never [previously] teammates. Now all the victories have followed," Smoltz said. "I'd like to know how many victories he's had since the last time we faced. It's probably been quite a few."

History shows that Maddux has captured 250 wins since the last time these two hurlers faced each other. But it also indicates that just one of his multitude of career victories have come during his three previous matchups against Smoltz.

When the two first opposed each other back in 1990, Maddux allowed two earned runs over eight innings, a strong effort that was trumped by Smoltz's first career shutout.

During a matchup at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on July 5, 1992, Maddux threw seven scoreless innings and led the Cubs to an 8-0 win. The crafty right-hander says the only memories he has of that game come from the accounts provided by Smoltz, who allowed three runs in five innings that day.

"I just remember him talking about [former Braves catcher] Damon Berryhill hitting the left field foul line or something," Maddux said. "Something like he should have won and didn't or I don't know."

There's good reason for Smoltz to have fonder memories of these previous matchups. Five days after suffering that early July loss in 1992, he came back to toss another shutout against the Cubs. Maddux allowed two earned runs over eight innings and one of those runs came courtesy of Smoltz's fifth-inning RBI single.

"Broken bat," Maddux said once again in his sly manner. "I don't know. What was it? I don't remember."

When told that Smoltz probably has vivid memories of it, Maddux responded, "He should remember. He didn't get many. He should remember what he got. I mean, I remember most of my hits."

Whatever happens in this matchup will certainly be discussed for many years to come. This fact is well known by Glavine, who has seen the Mets lose each of the three games, including two this year, in which he's opposed Smoltz.

As Glavine has already realized, he's never going to be able to forget about the dazzling defensive play Smoltz turned against him on April 22 at Shea Stadium. After hitting a chopper toward third, Glavine raced toward first, not knowing that Smoltz somehow got to the ball and then fired a precise off-balance throw to retire his good friend.

"The only thing pitchers talk about is what you did against them," Smoltz said. "It's not whether you beat the team or not. It's what you did against them. And forever in Glavine's long-lasting memory, I'll have the greatest [defensive] play in the history of the game. Hopefully something happens where I can make that play when Maddux is at the plate."

Since coming to the realization that they were indeed going to oppose each other, Smoltz and Maddux both say they haven't traded any fun-loving barbs. Instead, without much shock, they say all of their conversations this week have centered around setting up tee times for each other in their respective cities.

"We're pros," Maddux said. "We're not five years old playing in the playground. We've got our names on our shirt."

The names of Smoltz and Maddux will forever live in baseball lore. And at least one more time, the baseball gods have presented this opportunity for them to temporarily suspend friendship and replace it with the competitive fire that has fueled both of them on their march toward Cooperstown.

No matter how much Maddux attempts to downplay the event, there's no doubt that he understands the excitement an matchup like this can create.

"I can't wait," Perez said. "I don't think either of those two guys can wait either. It's going to be fun."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.