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Southpaws craft remarkable duel

Southpaws craft remarkable duel

NEW YORK -- The first meeting of the Left-handers Mutual Admiration Society came to order Wednesday night at Shea Stadium.

The best minutes of the meeting occurred soon after Barry Zito had banked the Giants' 3-0 win over Tom Glavine and the Mets.

Zito, a couple of weeks past his 29th birthday and now the winner of 107 games, was asked whether he could relate to the 41-year-old Glavine's 295.

"I have to relate to his big-league service time first," said Zito, grinning. "That's a long run, man. He's been on the field and staying healthy forever.

"The wins are impressive and amazing, but if you can stay healthy that many years and compete, my hat's off to him."

Across the bowels of the ballpark, Glavine's hat also came off.

"He pitches," Glavine said of Zito, that starkest of compliments which is the highest praise inside clubhouse walls. "He changes speeds and locations. He isn't a guy who is overpowering, but those are the guys I love to watch.

"I just wish I didn't have to watch him against me."

From everywhere except possibly the Mets' dugout, the view was impressive, as Zito pitched the first seven innings of the first shutout of the Mets in 56 games, since Sept. 26, 2006.

When Zito became a free agent in October following a 102-63 run in Oakland, many assumed his rock-star bearings would lead him to New York. This was a place, they reasoned, where he would enjoy pitching.

Well, no kidding. ... Wednesday night brought his first opportunity to pitch in Flushing, and he certainly appeared to enjoy the occasion.

Showing up the Mets, however, was not part of his agenda. The Mets' offseason pursuit ended with their decision that the left-hander did not merit the $126 million price (over seven seasons) eventually paid by the Giants.

"I don't want to pitch with any vendetta," said Zito, slowly shaking his head. "For me, it's just being aggressive and throwing strikes and hoping for the best."

Zito even enjoyed the pregame as much as the game. Running around in the outfield before entering the bullpen to warm up, he received the verbal bouquets of Mets fans.

"It's always great to come to New York and get all those trash-talkers who were on me in the outfield today," Zito said, "saying everything they could think of.

"No, they weren't creative at all. Just throwing blatant expletives right at me."

Soon enough, Zito was throwing quality stuff at those fans' heroes. Enough quality stuff to bar Glavine's road to 296, and to leave his elder shrugging shoulders in resignation.

In the aftermath, Glavine was cornered into explaining defeat. But he hadn't lost; allow three runs in seven innings, and you've done a job worthy of a "W." Except, Zito wouldn't let him win.

Glavine retraced a maddening first inning of one line-drive hit to the outfield -- by Barry Bonds, which the pitcher degraded to "semi-line drive to the outfield" -- and a couple of others dribbled through the infield, including a two-run single by Pedro Feliz.

Feliz's single was huge, and effectively brought the night to a premature conclusion. Because, San Francisco's pitcher is a walking contradiction to that romantic notion that baseball games slowly build toward climax.

Glavine's rationale -- "I'm always going to give up some runs, so I just got them out of the way earlier" -- was sound, with one major exception.

Zito simply does not surrender leads. Not even modest ones. In 50 starts since the beginning of the 2005 season, he now is 33-4 when given at least two runs.

Which Feliz's roller under shortstop Jose Reyes' diving glove did.

"I had to make those early runs work," Zito said. "I knew Glavine has been tough."

Indeed, if not for tough luck, Glavine wouldn't have any luck at all. At his current pace, he will participate in one memorable game after another, while remaining stuck on 295 wins.

In his previous start, he had dropped a 2-1 gem to John Smoltz, his onetime swing man on the Braves posse.

Now this whitewash by Zito, one of the worthy successors to the left-handed throne he occupies.

"Maybe," Glavine said, those ground hits still bouncing around in his mind, "I've got to get them to hit the ball harder."

Satisfaction in one room, frustration in the other ... and nothing but admiration down the middle.

It was a remarkable evening, when one remembers that Glavine won his first of 295 when Zito was a nine-year-old in third grade. On Wednesday night, the generations fused into a remarkable duel.

Glavine is chasing 300, and Zito may never get too far on the other side of 200. The hill is just too steep, the way his craft has changed.

But for one night, at least, they were peers. And as a tandem, they were peerless.

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

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