ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves headed out to batting practice, but the doors to the clubhouse remained shut — the first inkling that something was up.
No one could have envisioned what was coming.
Less than an hour apart Wednesday, the Braves ingloriously dumped Tom Glavine just when it seemed the 305-game winner was set to return from an injury, then completed a trade with Pittsburgh for All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth, a huge boost to a sporadic offense.
General manager Frank Wren believed the team was just a couple of moves away from contending in the NL East, so he acted boldly.
“We didn’t want the season to get too far gone before we made some moves,” he said. “We thought some aggressive moves would put our club in good position.”
The Braves slipped to 5 1/2 games behind NL East-leading Philadelphia with a 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Chicago Cubs that was downright anticlimactic on a day like this. Atlanta hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005, the most recent of its record 14 straight division titles.
Instead of bringing back Glavine, who made three rehab starts in the minors coming back from shoulder and elbow injuries, the Braves turned to top prospect Tommy Hanson. He has been dominant at Triple-A Gwinnett, going 3-3 with a 1.49 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 66-1/3 innings.
Everyone in the clubhouse could see the logic of calling up Hanson. But no one expected Glavine’s career in Atlanta to end like this.
“This is a good lesson for everybody who doesn’t know better,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “This is a business, and sometimes it’s harsh.”
The trade for McLouth lightened the mood a little, but not much.
Glavine thought he would be pitching in Atlanta by the weekend, only to get summoned to a meeting with Wren, team president John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox. They gave him a chance to retire; he asked to be released, giving him the option to hook on with another team.
“He was one of the best teammates I ever had,” said catcher Brian McCann, looking toward the locker right next to his, still with Glavine’s name above it. “He was first class all the way and one of the best pitchers of our time.”
The 43-year-old Glavine threw six scoreless innings in a rehab start for Single-A Rome on Tuesday night and proclaimed himself ready to pitch in the majors again.
Instead, the Braves cut him, another move that figures to draw the ire of Atlanta fans after the team failed to re-sign John Smoltz during the offseason.
Glavine described himself as “very surprised” in a text message to The Associated Press. Cox called it “the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.”
The players were most shocked by the timing of the decision: Why was the 305-game winner allowed to make three rehab starts and then told he wouldn’t be pitching anymore for the Braves? Did Atlanta ever have any intention of bringing him back, considering he didn’t allow a run in his past two starts against minor-leaguers?
“We all would have preferred to see it happen sooner because he worked so hard to rehab,” Jones said. “Right when he’s saying he’s ready to come back, he finds out that it’s not going to be here.”