09/25/2003 10:33 PM ET
Smoltz recalls postseasons past
Braves closer has 11 Octobers worth of memories
ATLANTA -- As John Smoltz prepares to enter the postseason for the 12th time since 1991, he
remembers the emotional roller-coaster of past Octobers he and his Braves teammates have
experienced over the years.
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Smoltz, the only player on this year's Braves team who was around when the franchise won its
first of 12 consecutive division titles in 1991, has been an integral part of playoff baseball
throughout his career.
The veteran right-hander began his career as one of the most dependable big-game starters
and even persevered through intense pain to make five postseason appearances in 1999.
Smoltz underwent Tommy John surgery in 2000 and has since come back as one of the game's
most dominant closers. Elbow pain has once again bothered the right-hander again this year,
but his determination will not stand in his way and his pursuit of helping the Braves to their
first World Series title since 1995.
Smoltz took time to chat with MLB.com about his memories from each postseason:
One year after finishing in last place for a third consecutive season, the Braves took the Twins
to a World Series Game 7, in which Smoltz's 7 1/3 scoreless innings were trumped by the 10
scoreless innings provided by Jack Morris.
Five World Series games were decided by one run and three went into extra-innings, including
Game 6, which the Twins won on Kirby Puckett's 12th-inning solo homer against Charlie
Smoltz, who threw a shutout against the Pirates in Game 7 of the NLCS, ended his first
postseason with a 1.52 ERA (five earned runs in 29 2/3 innings).
Smoltz: "It's hard to duplicate the first time. Despite the fact we didn't get a ring, I feel
we won. It was one of those series where somebody had to lose. But I still don't feel like we
Smoltz was named MVP of the NLCS, which ended when Francisco Cabrera delivered a
two-out, two-run single that enabled Sid Bream to slide across the plate in front of Barry
Bonds' throw and give the Braves a 4-3, Game 7 win over the Pirates.
The Braves got revenge against Morris, defeating him in his only two starts for the Blue Jays in
the World Series. But Atlanta lost four more one-run affairs, including a decisive 4-3,
11-inning setback in Game 6.
Smoltz went 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA in five postseason starts.
Smoltz: "That year was disappointing because we had a better team than we had the
year before. Nobody thought we could get back to the World Series but we never doubted
"Our first eight World Series losses were all by one run. That's not like getting beat
with a three-pointer at the buzzer in the NBA Finals. But it's still hard because you know you
had a chance in every game."
After making a miraculous second-half comeback and holding off the Giants for the NL West
title on the season's final day, the Braves were a tired bunch when they lost to the Phillies in six
games during the NLCS.
Smoltz allowed just two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings during Game 4, but he still was charged
with his first loss in six career postseason decisions.
Smoltz: "I'd say this was the most disappointing because we had a really good team
and lost to the Phillies in a series that we should have never lost."
Finally, the gorilla was lifted off the Braves backs. Atlanta's strong pitching staff shut down the
Indians' explosive offense in the World Series.
Tom Glavine allowed one hit over eight innings and Mark Wohlers completed the decisive
Game 6 shutout with a perfect ninth that gave the city of Atlanta its first World Series championship.
Smoltz went without a decision, while posting a 6.60 ERA in three postseason starts.
Smoltz: "That year provided the best feeling because everyone was comparing us to
the Buffalo Bills. If we would have lost, everyone was talking about how we would have failed
After taking two straight games at Yankee Stadium to begin the World Series, the Braves saw
the Bronx Bombers come back to take four in a row and prevent Atlanta from a second
Smoltz went 4-1 with a 0.95 ERA in the postseason. He struck out 10 while allowing just one
unearned run in the Braves' 1-0 loss to Andy Pettitte in Game 5 of the World Series.
Smoltz: "That was ultimately the worst year you can ever imagine. We should have
repeated. We're up 2-0 and then the floor gave out. If you think about it, it pole-vaulted the
Yankees to do what they did. If we beat the Yankees, who knows what George (Steinbrenner)
does? If we beat the Yankees like we would have 99 out of 100 times we play that Series, who
knows what happens to the Yankees?"
After sweeping the Astros in the Division Series, the Braves ran into an upstart Marlins bunch
that ended Atlanta's hopes for a third straight trip to the World Series. Florida used five
unearned runs in the first inning of Game 1 to propel themselves to a six-game victory.
Smoltz limited the Astros to one run on three hits in a clinching Game 3 of the Division Series.
But he was touched for five earned runs in six innings of Game 3 of the NLCS.
Smoltz: "It virtually felt like we gave that away. We made errors. The Marlins were a
great team, but we just gave it to them. We made some major, major mental mistakes."
The Braves swept the Cubs in the Division Series and then ran into an extraordinary Padres
pitching staff that was led by Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock. San Diego advanced to the
World Series by winning the NLCS in six games.
Smoltz won his only Division Series start and went without a decision in two NLCS starts. He
was 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA.
Smoltz: "I'd say that was a carbon copy of what we did the year before. We let the
Padres go to the World Series, like we had the Marlins the year before. But at the same time,
we just couldn't score. Bobby Cox tried whatever a manager could try and we couldn't score."
After overcoming injuries that ended Javy Lopez's season and limited Smoltz, the Braves
dramatically advanced to the World Series with wins over the Astros in the Division Series and
Mets in the NLCS.
Smoltz, who provided some foreshadowing while pitching a perfect ninth to save Game 2 of
the NLCS, made five postseason appearances (three starts), despite an aching elbow that
would need surgery six months later.
While pitching in obvious pain, he struck out 11 and limited the Yankees to three earned runs
in seven innings of Game 4 of the World Series. But the Bronx Bombers won their third World Series championship in four seasons by sweeping the Braves.
Smoltz: "Even though we got swept in the World Series and it looks like it was a
mismatch, it wasn't. Every game was close. But even though that year ended on a sour note,
the year should be remembered for the great team effort by a group of guys that probably
should have never made it to the World Series."
Smoltz had Tommy John surgery in March and was unavailable throughout the season. He
admitted feeling helpless when the Cardinals swept the Braves out of the playoffs in the
Division Series. This marked the first time since 1990 that an NLCS wouldn't include the
Smoltz: "That was just embarrassing when the Cardinals beat us in three straight."
Once again the Astros were swept by the Braves in the Division Series. But Atlanta advanced
no further, as Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and the Diamondbacks derailed its hopes in the
Smoltz, who by this time had become a closer, didn't allow a run in his two NLCS
Smoltz: "That Diamondbacks series was another frustrating one because of the two
pivotal games against Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling that we lost by slim margins."
Smoltz set a single-season NL record with 55 saves, but he was unable to find a save
opportunity during the five-game loss to the Giants in the Division Series. The only run the
veteran hurler allowed in his 3 1/3 innings came when Barry Bonds homered in the ninth
inning of Game 2.
Smoltz: "It was almost like fighting destiny. It was just another situation when you
look back at what could have been and you just start shaking your head. Every single year,
we could have won."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for
MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its