Maddux ends doubts after his 'so-so' 15-win year NLCS dominance silences skeptics of decorated Brave

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- The sixth game of the National League Championship Series apparently was the final hurdle. Right-hander Greg Maddux dominated the St. Louis Cardinals in a do-or-die performance on Wednesday night and shattered the myth of his postseason vulnerability.

His performance was so resounding -- 7 2/3 innings, one run, six hits, no walks -- that his unusually high postseason ERA (4.08) did not draw a single question on the day before his scheduled start against New York Yankees left-hander Jimmy Key in Game 2 of the 92nd World Series.

It probably shouldn't have been an issue in the first place, since the worst of his postseason numbers were from two 1989 playoff appearances for the Chicago Cubs. That was when Maddux was merely a great pitcher. That was before he won four consecutive Cy Young Awards.

It might not have been an issue at all if he had turned in a typical Greg Maddux season this year, but he pitched in the shadow of teammate John Smoltz and won just 15 games, which can be considered an off year only when compared to the impressive standard that he had set in his previous three seasons with the Braves.

Maddux finished the regular season 15-11 with a 2.72 ERA, fine for most but still a stark contrast to a three-year past performance that averages to 18-6 and 1.90.

The numbers don't lie, but Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone bristles at the notion that Maddux was something less than his usual self in 1996.

"What I saw this year, he had a great year," Mazzone said. "What was very noticeable was that anyone who pitched against Maddux would turn it up. It was the game of their lives. He had 30 walks and 170 strikeouts [actually 28 and 172]. That's pretty good."

The 30-year-old right-hander does not spend a lot of time trying to defend his record, and why should he? He remains the most respected pitcher in the game.

Even Key had to marvel at his opponent's resume. Key knows how difficult it is to be consistently overpowering when you're not an overpowering pitcher.

"It is amazing," Key said yesterday. "I looked at their postseason guide and he's got something like a 1.90 ERA over his first three years in Atlanta. That would be good in Little League. It's amazing to me that a control pitcher can put up those kinds of numbers."

Key, however, said he will not let the stature of the opposing pitcher affect his own preparation.

"Going in, you know he's not going to give up many runs," Key said, "but I'm going to let our hitters worry about that. I've got to concentrate on what I've got to do."

Maddux could just as easily be pitching in pinstripes tonight. The Yankees were in direct competition to sign him after he became a free agent in 1992, but the Braves gave him the biggest contract ever offered to a pitcher ($28 million over five years) and he has never had reason to regret his decision.

Maddux has more important things to think about, like the tight right hamstring that has bothered him the past couple of months, but he seemed to be looking forward to his first-ever start in Yankee Stadium.

"Obviously, I'm very excited about it," he said. "This is one of the best ballparks. To have a chance to come here and pitch and being in the World Series, that makes it much more special. My legs are fine. I'm ready to pitch."

Pub Date: 10/21/96

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