07/16/2003 2:02 AM ET
Smoltz still confident despite loss
CHICAGO -- Everything seemed to be setting up rather nicely for the Braves during Tuesday night's All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field.
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Andruw Jones was going to walk away with MVP honors and John Smoltz was going to ensure the National League of home-field advantage in this year's World Series by closing out the ninth in customary fashion.
But over the past two years, Smoltz has learned of the many variables a closer encounters and simply had to watch helplessly as Dodgers closer Eric Gagne allowed three runs in the eighth inning of the American League's 7-6 come-from behind victory over the National League.
"Obviously I wanted to pitch," Smoltz said. "That would have meant we had the lead in the ninth. It was an exciting All-Star Game in many ways, mainly because it was the first one that counted."
Smoltz's comments came with a smile in reference to Major League Baseball's marketing slogan, "This Time It Counts." The Braves closer is among the many players who contended that they gave the same effort this year as they had in previous years, when the league that won the All-Star Game didn't earn home-field advantage in the World Series.
"If anyone says this game is the reason the National League loses the World Series this year, they're wrong," Smoltz said. "Nothing changed out there tonight. It was like any other game that everybody wants to win."
With Gagne and Smoltz, who have more saves than anyone in baseball, it certainly looked like the NL's two-run lead was safe. But as soon as Hank Blalock drilled his decisive two-out, two-run homer in the eighth off Gagne, everyone was denied the opportunity of seeing the Braves' record-setting closer shut the door.
Smoltz, who is on pace to record an all-time record 59 saves this season, has converted 94 percent (89 of 95) save opportunities over the past two years.
"I stayed in the dugout to see Smoltzie come in and close it out," Gary Sheffield said. "I told him he better come in and shut them down one, two, three. When you see him come out of the bullpen you know it's pretty much over."
While Smoltz was unable to take the hill in a game Jones had three RBIs, Braves ace Russ Ortiz made the most of his opportunity by walking one and recording two strikeouts in a scoreless fifth inning. It was the first time the right-hander, who has an NL-leading 12 wins, has appeared in an All-Star Game.
"I was nervous and I was excited," Ortiz said. "The adrenaline was going pretty good. I just wanted to go out there and give all I had and it ended up working out pretty good."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.