Mission Possible? Glavine Shoots to Beat Old Mates

If Tom Glavine falters in his start tonight against the Atlanta Braves, the team that turned him into a human piñata last season, nobody will be fired – this isn't the Yankees' second Tokyo game, deemed a must-win in the eyes of those who grovel underneath George Steinbrenner's grasp. <p> No, it's nothing like that, but for Glavine – who was 0-4 with an astronomical ERA against Atlanta last season – a win would sure be nice.

"It would mean a lot," Glavine told reporters yesterday in Atlanta, where the Mets went through an open workout. "Obviously, pitching well against these guys is something I have to improve upon, and pitching well in general. Those things kind of go hand in hand."

Glavine may be pitching in familiar surroundings, but aside from manager Bobby Cox and perpetually-moving pitching coach Leo Mazzone, there won't be nearly as many familiar faces in the home dugout at Turner Field tonight.

Old teammates Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Kevin Millwood and Greg Maddux have all exited the Atlanta picture, with J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero making up much of the new face of the Braves lineup.

Glavine hasn't had much luck retiring Chipper and Andruw Jones with any consistency (hitting .429 and .500, respectively), so the key to mastering his Atlanta struggles might be squeezing outs from guys who he didn't share a clubhouse with.

"It's a challenge, right off the bat," Glavine said, "to go out there with a game plan and try to remove the emotions involved."

Yes, Glavine still looks at a start against Atlanta differently than he'd tackle an assignment against the Milwaukee Brewers or the Montreal Expos, but how could he not? Glavine gave so much to the Braves organization in 16 years of service, taking them to one glorious World Series victory in 1995.

In some respects, he's still the baby-faced kid pitching at Bradenton in 1984, dreaming of wearing those ugly powder-blue Atlanta uniforms while learning the Brave way to carry himself. If Glavine someday goes to the Hall of Fame, he'll be wearing an Atlanta cap, something he's come to terms with even as he's grown acclimated to life as a Met.

"The adjustment period is over," Glavine said yesterday, acknowledging that it's no longer strange to wear the Mets' bright orange batting practice duds, no longer strange to expect the occasional cheer at Shea Stadium.

"I have to remove myself from what happened last year."

One major distraction that plagued Glavine during his struggles against Atlanta in 2003 may have been taken care of. The veteran pitcher isn't sure whether he'll allow his two and three-year-old toddlers to attend tonight's start, fearful that they'll receive the same kind of vulgar fan abuse that chased them from Turner Field last season.

"I worried about it last year and it bothered me," Glavine told Newsday. "I can't worry about it this year."

The Mets wish they could erase the majority of their concerns with one clean victory over the Braves, but it will take more. Outfielder Cliff Floyd noted yesterday that the Mets seem to carry the perception of having "a black cloud over us," no doubt the end result of a disappointing spring showing and injuries to several players, including second baseman Jose Reyes, who will start the year on the disabled list.

Glavine defeating the Braves on Opening Day won't cure all of that, but in the court of public opinion, it'd certainly be a step in the right direction.

Mets Briefs: Manager Art Howe said that he will use shortstop Kaz Matsui in the leadoff spot tonight, despite the fact that Matsui hit just .192 in a disappointing spring. … Karim Garcia (stomach virus) is feeling better and will start in right field. … Braves starter Russ Ortiz has struggled against both Mike Piazza (.375, 2 HR) and Cliff Floyd (.364, 2 HR).

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