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Herald: From footnote to fixture


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care of clark spencer / miami herald:


Posted on Sat, Feb. 28, 2004



RESILIENT: 'Never did I wake up and say, ''This stinks,'' or ''I'm so unlucky,'' ' Carl Pavano says of his struggles and injuries. JOE RIMKUS JR. / HERALD STAFF | More photos...



From footnote to fixture


Carl Pavano, who allowed Mark McGwire's 70th home run and was traded for Pedro Martinez, wants to create some history of his own this year for the Marlins.




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JUPITER - Carl Pavano is forever being trailed by the tendril shadows of his past. A woman walked up to him Friday and asked for his autograph. Smiling, she held out pen and paper and said -- no insult intended -- ``I have your autograph from when you threw that pitch to Mark McGwire.''


That would be the 1998 pitch that McGwire plopped over the fence for his 70th home run, which is not to be confused with another Pavano pitch thrown three years later that Lenny Harris plunked for his record-setting 151st career pinch hit.


Then, of course, there was the weighty stigma attached to the 1997 Red Sox-Expos trade: Pavano for Pedro Martinez.


And no background rehash of Pavano should be considered complete without mention of his medical history, which entails a handful of trips to the disabled list due to a surgery and a myriad of associated arm pains.


That's why the 2003 season for Pavano wasn't so much about redemption as it was about personal gratification. You don't throw more than 200 innings and not miss a start after so many false ones -- your right arm and shoulder and lower back constantly being wrapped with so much frozen H20 that your own manager jokingly refers to you as ''The Iceman'' -- without feeling internal warmth.


''I don't know about redemption, because I wasn't trying to get back at anyone other than myself,'' Pavano said. ``It was just a peace of mind and a self-gratification that, mentally, I got through all that stuff and became stronger. I mean, some of that stuff that I went through would just break a guy. It made me better and stronger and made me want it more.''




During the first raw days of spring training, the scales are so tilted in the pitcher's favor that the hitter's swing often appears cartoonish. The showdowns are so unfair that they become enjoyable to watch for those into masochism, with batters shaking their heads and cursing out loud, missing and flailing even when the catcher has whispered to them in advance the type of pitch that is about to be thrown and the expected location.


It was like that Friday for Pavano when he squared up against several of the best Marlins hitters.


''I'm going to check the ball, Pavano,'' Juan Pierre yelled after being fooled on a slider. 'You're spittin' on those things.''


Brian Banks managed to get his bat on one Pavano pitch, but the result provided him no reward. The bat broke in half, with the barrel catapulting into the infield grass and his soft bloop landing just behind where the second baseman would normally stand.


''What are you doing?'' Banks, splintered handle in hand, called out to Pavano.


Pavano, all business, didn't even acknowledge with a wry smile.


On a starting pitching staff that includes a couple of flamethrowers in Josh Beckett and Brad Penny and fanciful, high-kicking lefty Dontrelle Willis, Pavano is the ``other guy.''




Only Pavano succeeded where the other guys didn't last season, which is to say he took the ball without fail every fifth day and did so without great fanfare. He went 12-13, after all, which doesn't translate well into big headlines.


Examine his season under the microscope, though, and his name becomes the answer to questions.


Which Marlins pitcher won the most games at Pro Player Stadium last season? Which Marlins pitcher outdueled Roger Clemens in the World Series? Which pitcher quite likely turned the playoffs completely around for the Marlins, sparing them early elimination?


For the last question, go back to Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.


Having already lost the first game, the Marlins were down 5-4 in Game 2 when Pavano was brought in from the bullpen with one out and the bases loaded. A single makes it 7-4, and the Marlins instantly go belly up. Pavano retires Edgardo Alfonso and Benito Santiago on infield popouts to end the inning, and the Marlins rally to win.


''He did a spectacular job keeping us in games,'' manager Jack McKeon said. ``He won a lot of big games for us.''


Pavano, burdened by his past, said he's burning to win more.


'Never did I wake up one day and say, ``You know what, this is not even worth it,' '' Pavano said of his many downs. ``Every day I woke up and said, `I want this.'


'Never did I wake up and say, `This stinks,' or 'I'm so unlucky.' Even when I went through that, I felt like I was lucky to get traded for Pedro Martinez. I was lucky enough to play in the big leagues. I was lucky enough to put on a uniform every day. I was lucky enough to give up the 70th home run to Mark McGwire.


``My career, I gave up the 70th home run to Mark McGwire, I've had surgery, I've been on the DL for like three or four months at a time. I've been through so much I can get through anything. Things don't faze me. But I want to do better than last year. I want more innings. And I definitely want more wins.''


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