In September 1986, an unknown pitcher made his major league debut as a pinch-runner in the 17th inning. In the bottom of the following inning, he surrendered a walk-off homer and took the loss.
An auspicious start to a pitching career to be sure.
Five days later, as the Chicago Cubs squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies, Greg Maddux won his first start as a big leaguer, throwing a complete game. Oh, and the starter for the Phillies that day was Maddux's older brother, Mike.
The pending announcement of Maddux calling it a career is hard for any fan of baseball to hear. As a Braves fan, it is especially difficult, because some of Maddux's most prolific accomplishments as a player came during his years in Atlanta.
Here are 10 of my favorite moments from the spectacular career of the sure-fire, first ballot Hall-of-Famer.
10. September 1986: In his first start, a complete game win against his brother, Mike, and the Phillies.
9. May 2001: He becomes the first pitcher since 1919 to record two 1-0 complete game shutouts in the same month.
8. Maddux wins his 355th career game on Sept. 27, 2008. The win moved him past Roger Clemens for eighth on the all-time list.
7.1998 NLDS Game One: Maddux throws a complete game in Atlanta's 2-1 win over Houston.
6. July 17, 2001: A complete game shutout vs. Tampa Bay
5. Making his debut as a Brave in 1993 on Opening Day, Maddux pitched a gem, hurling a complete game shutout against his former team, the Cubs.
4. The entire 1994 season: Maddux posted a 1.56 ERA, logged over 200 innings, pitched 10 complete games, registered three shutouts, collected 156 strikeouts, and surrendered only 32 walks.
3. 1995 World Series Game One: Maddux deals a two-hit, complete game win against Cleveland (just the 15th two-hitter in WS history) that catalyzed the Braves in their first World Series triumph in baseball's modern era.
2. July 2, 1997: Facing the Yankees for the first time since his terrible outing against the Yankees in the '96 World Series, Maddux sparkled, throwing a three-hit shutout with eight strike outs, one double play, and one runner picked off—all on just 84 pitches. The game took 2 hours and 23 minutes.
1. July 22, 1997: Maddux again dazzled his former team, the Cubs, in a 76-pitch complete game victory.
Laying out the career of any great athlete is sometimes difficult to do. Historical facts and figures can be found easily enough, but for the most part, the true impact of a great sports career can't be defined in numbers alone.
Maddux is no different.
It could be argued that Maddux, as a pitcher, has no equal when it comes to the measure of his resolve.
He threw no harder than the high 80s, most of the time slower than that. His changeup vanished from hitters' eyes. His curve ball was average. His cutter broke back over the plate against lefties and seemingly defied the laws of physics at times.
His pinpoint accuracy and the ability to keep hitters completely off balance is what made Maddux one of the best of his era.
As a Brave, he was the cornerstone of a staff that included two other future Hall inductees (Tom Glavine and John Smoltz). The Braves laid claim to a division title in each of his 11 seasons in Atlanta. In the eyes of many, his most productive years as a pro were spent as a Brave.
In the end, it was difficult to measure Greg Maddux and his career success because there were so many great moments.
For a fan of the game of baseball, perhaps the greatest moment will be the moment five years from now—when Maddux and his legacy are forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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