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After it was over and Greg Maddux had earned his 300th major-league victory Saturday, he reflected on a career that no one could have envisioned when he threw his first professional pitch at Class A Pikesville in 1984.
An 8-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants put Maddux on a plateau that only 21 others had reached since Jim Galvin became the first in 1889. But Maddux appeared more satisfied with his longevity than his milestone.
"It feels good just to be able to play this game as long as I have," he said. "It's a good gig when you can pitch every fifth game and have four days off in between. Trust meit's good. Just to be in the game as long as I have is pretty special. That's what it's all about."
Maddux admitted it was not one of his best performances of the season. He pitched five-plus innings, yielding four runs on seven hits to improve to 11-7. The fact that it was over and done with was a relief to the 38-year-old veteran, who wanted no part of the hype.
"He said to me before the game, 'I'd just like to get this over with,'" pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "I think everybody felt that way. It's just a different atmosphere. Obviously it's only been done 21 times before him, so it's something you just can't prepare for atmosphere-wise. Greg isn't one who likes the spotlight to be on him, and I think it made him uncomfortable his last few starts."
The Cubs came back from an early three-run deficit thanks to home runs by Corey Patterson and Moises Alou and three hits by Nomar Garciaparra, and the bullpen got in and out of jams as manager Dusty Baker used five relievers to get the job done.
"We had some touchy situations," Baker said. "Guys were trying all they could to get some more runs."
Maddux faced Giants rookie Brad Hennessey, who was the first pitcher to make his major-league debut against someone going for his 300th win since Philadelphia Athletics rookie Jim McPherson did it against Boston's Cy Young in 1901.
Maddux began his second attempt at No. 300 in similar fashion as in his first attempt last Sunday against Philadelphia, when Phillies leadoff man Jimmy Rollins hit his second pitch for a home run. Giants leadoff man Ray Durham tripled off the right-field wall to start off Saturday's game, and when Maddux walked J.T. Snow with one out, he snapped his glove back in anger.
That meant he'd pitch to Barry Bonds, whose eight home runs off Maddux is the most of any player.
"When you play the Giants, the game revolves around him," Maddux said.
Bonds wound up hitting a sacrifice fly, but Maddux got out of the inning without further damage. A bloop single by Snow in the third handcuffed Maddux once again in his approach to Bonds, whom he wound up walking to put two on with no outs.
Edgardo Alfonzo fell behind in the count 0-2 before slapping a single past second baseman Todd Walker to bring home another run. Bonds was thrown out trying to take third on the play, but A.J. Pierzynski tripled on the next pitch to score Alfonzo and make it 3-0.
Todd Walker's two-run double off Hennessey in the fourth cut the deficit to one run.
After a leadoff double by Garciaparra in the fifth, Alou and Sammy Sosa failed to get him in. But Aramis Ramirez singled up the middle with two strikes to drive in the tying run, and Derrek Lee hit an opposite-field double off the right-field wall to put the Cubs ahead for the first time in the series.
Paul Bako's double and a two-run blast into McCovey Cove by Patterson made it 6-3 in the sixth, and Maddux was home free. He was removed by Baker after 82 pitches after giving up back-to-back hits to start the Giants' sixth.
The crowd of 42,578 gave Maddux a standing ovation as he left the field, while Baker was the first to greet him from the top step of the dugout, providing the first in a long line of fist bumps. The Cubs led 6-4 in the eighth when Kyle Farnsworth loaded the bases, but he quickly induced Ricky Ledee into grounding into a force play, ending the inning. Alou added a two-run homer off Brett Tomko in the ninth, sealing the deal.
Truth be told, Saturday's victory was the 311th of Maddux's career, counting the postseason, which Maddux does. His actual 300th win came Sept. 28, 2003, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, when he won No. 289, to go along with 11 postseason wins. It wasn't officially No. 300, but in Maddux's mind, it was the same thing.
Maddux kept the ball from that win as a keepsake, though he never said a word about it. That's typical Maddux.
Watching the game in the clubhouse while icing down his arm, Maddux showed little emotion.
"It is a sense of relief in a way," he said. "Hopefully we can move on. I don't think anybody got too caught up in it to begin with. We just put it behind us and do what we can to get to the postseason now. Guys weren't all that worried about it to begin with. At the same time, maybe it's one less question they won't get asked about."