Pick a year, any year, any year at all. With Greg Maddux’s stats on your monitor, you can pretty much close your eyes and point the cursor wherever you like: 1988, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002. Or anywhere in between. Just take your pick.

There are certain givens: 34 starts, 200 innings, 15 wins, 50 walks, and an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.00. Oh, and a Gold Glove Award.

Sure, the ERA has crept up the last four seasons, beginning at age 37, but the results are still there. Last night’s dissection of home plate and the San Francisco Giants was vintage Maddux. Six innings, 75 pitches tossed, 55 for strikes, and a 4-0 decision at Petco Park. A fair percentage of the 55 strikes probably belong in quotation marks, which is also typical of a Maddux-pitched game.

When Maddux is on, which even now at age 41 is a good two-thirds of the time, this is what he does. He’ll give the opponents pitches that are somewhat hittable, but not where the batter prefers them to be. Take the pitch, and it’s called a strike. Go for it, and it’s a ground ball out. Usually.

As the game goes along, pitches are carefully placed farther away from the batter’s comfort zone, and for that matter, the strike zone. Invariably, Maddux’s best offerings are inches or even parts of inches off whichever part of the plate he sees fit; and again, invariably, the home plate umpire gives the veteran pitcher the strike call.

Wednesday’s home plate umpire Bill Welke was as accommodating as the next guy. No more, no less. All those years in Atlanta, Maddux, along with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, made their livings on the edges of home plate. And all those years the umps played along. The lesson for the Braves aces was as simple as this: “Why throw a strike if you don’t have to?”

It’s annoying to watch when they’re on the other side, but now that Maddux is here, my suggestion is enjoy it while you can. Expect your six innings and 75 pitches, quick work of things, and then it’s up to the bullpen. Start after start after start. Vintage Maddux. This is what he does.

— HOWARD COLE

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