Byline: Barry Rozner
John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux or Denny Neagle.
Pick your poison.
Tonight's comes in the form of Maddux, whom the Cubs will have to beat to stay alive for another day. And the Cubs have tried every way imaginable to solve Maddux, but it seems like every time they come up with a new plan, it's worse than the last one.
On April 6, 1997, the Cubs decided to wait him out a little bit more and make Maddux give them something to hit.
The result: Maddux wins 4-0 and throws 89 pitches in a 1-hour, 47-minute contest. Maddux faces 27 batters and averages exactly one called ball per at-bat.
On July 22, 1997, the Cubs decided that since Maddux throws so many first-pitch strikes, they would try to get to him early in the count.
The result: Maddux wins 4-1 and throws only 78 pitches in a 2-hour, 7-minute contest.
"We've done it both ways and neither has worked particularly well," said Cubs manager Jim Riggleman. "We've said, 'Let's swing at the first good fastball we see,' and we've said, 'Let's make him throw some pitches.'
"We'll talk about it before the game and try to come to some conclusion, but when hitters step into the box, they revert to their own plan, not the hitting coach's plan. Most of our guys have seen him enough and probably know how to try to take the best route."
While Greg Maddux fans still mourn the day he left, and Cubs fans ponder how different things might have been had the Cubs not kicked him out of the house, Maddux holds no special place in his heart for the team.
"It's always special to pitch at Wrigley Field. It's a great park and the fans are great to me and the people of Chicago still treat me like one of their own," Maddux said. "But as far as being a Cub goes, I don't even think about it anymore. It's a long time ago. That's what, six or seven years ago already?
"I don't want to beat them any more than I do anyone else. That business of wanting to prove something to management here was gone after about a year. I let go of that.
"My motivation now is just to win a playoff game. We're playing a very good team and we don't want to give them any room for hope. You always try to finish off a team when you have a chance, but they've got a good lineup and we're facing a tough pitcher. It won't be easy."
Wood vs. Maddux
Maddux is 7-1 with a sub-2.00 ERA in 11 career starts against his former club since leaving Chicago prior to the 1993 season. His only defeat came on July 21, when his mound opponent was Kerry Wood. The Cubs didn't exactly pound Maddux, who allowed 3 runs on 5 hits in 7 innings, but that was more than they usually manage against him.
Wood, meanwhile, has faced the Braves three times this season, going 1-0 with a 2.18 ERA. He has allowed only 5 earned runs, but he also has walked the tightrope with a dangerous 16 walks and 16 hits in 20 2/3 innings.
Suddenly, you hear Cubs veterans talking about how worried they are about Kerry Wood's future. …