NEW YORK - There are pitching machines at batting cages that throw fewer strikes than Greg Maddux.
He's like Robo-Pitcher - wind him up and watch him throw fastballs across the corners.
"You don't see the ball over the middle of the plate," Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill marveled.
No, but it's always in the strike zone.
Demonstrating again that the best pitches aren't always the fastest ones, Maddux dazzled the New York Yankees and took his 23rd career shutout Wednesday afternoon as the Braves won the series with a 2-0 victory before 36,606 fans at Yankee Stadium.
"He's always great, but he went to a different level the last two starts," manager Bobby Cox said. "He's on the awesome side. You don't see games pitched like that very often."
Maddux (11-3) won a fourth straight decision with a typically efficient and economical performance. He made 88 pitches, 65 strikes, allowed three singles and didn't issue a walk in a fifth straight start, extending his streak to 36 innings.
Maddux beat the Phillies five days ago in two hours and eight minutes. The win over the Yankees took a minute longer. Between the fourth inning and the ninth he retired 14 consecutive hitters and finished with eight strikeouts.
"He doesn't give you a pitch and says, `Here, hit it,' " Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "He never throws the ball straight."
Maddux, who lost a shutout when he gave up a two-out, ninth-inning run to the Phils last Friday, has worked consecutive complete games during which he's allowed nine hits and one earned run in 18 innings.
Wednesday's masterpiece was his fourth complete game and his second shutout of the season and he lowered his earned run average to 2.36, the league's third-best.
"I'm locating (my pitches) about as good as I ever have," Maddux said. "I've kept it down the last two games. Probably my concentration picked up a little bit. I haven't made any adjustments in my mechanics."
Said catcher Eddie Perez, "The last two games were the best I've seen him in the last two years. He was going better and better. Every inning he got better."
Maddux got all the support he'd need when Jeff Blauser doubled with two outs in the third inning against Yankees starter Dwight Gooden (3-1) and scored on Chipper Jones' single. Ryan Klesko gave him some breathing room in the sixth with his club-leading 14th homer, his second in two days, a drive that landed in the third deck in right field.
"You know me, streaky, streaky," Klesko said. "This year it's been all or nothing. It's nice going in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. It's something I'll always remember."
What the Yankees will remember is that Maddux was nearly flawless. He faced one hitter over the minimum, made 20 first-pitch strikes and threw three pitches wide of the strike zone to one batter all afternoon. Only one hitter, Mark Whiten in the third inning, reached second base and Maddux promptly picked him off.
While many teams try to attack Maddux by swinging at his first pitch, the Yankees weren't aggressive and they paid the price. Once he's ahead in the count, Maddux is death on a hitter.
"You have to be ready to hit his first pitch," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We went over that in the meeting. He's an artist."
Maddux's outing capped three extraordinary performances by Braves starters against the Yankees. Tom Glavine, Denny Neagle and Maddux combined to work 25 2/3 innings and gave up one run as the Braves ended interleague play until Labor Day weekend by taking two of three games.
"We got, what? Five runs? We held them to two runs," Cox said. "I guess it was a pitcher's series."
No, it was pitching as an art form.
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