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Smoltz: Playoffs a different story
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10/04/2003 11:08 PM ET 
Smoltz: Playoffs a different story
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"If you make good pitches, you're going to get guys out," John Smoltz said. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
CHICAGO -- Because John Smoltz has created such a standard of excellence in the closer's role, his every flaw is scrutinized to the point where if not perfect, he's forced to answer questions about his health.

Thus, Smoltz found himself flocked by a horde of media members after he had grimaced and painfully navigated himself through a dramatic ninth inning in the Braves' 6-4 win over the Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Saturday night at Wrigley Field.

"People don't understand," said Smoltz, who missed much of September with tendinitis in his right elbow. "You can do it 45 or 50 times in the regular season and still the playoffs are going to be a different story. You still have to get outs and today we got enough outs."

If needed, Smoltz, who has combined to save 100 games over the past two years, plans on being ready if his team needs him again in Sunday's ninth inning. He pitched two innings in Game 2 and won't likely be able to do that again until the NLCS.

"John was the same as he's always been," Braves manager Bobby Cox said after Saturday's game. "He was trying to throw a lot of fastballs tonight. He'll be ready to go tomorrow."

Smoltz allowed back-to-back doubles to Randall Simon and Damian Miller to begin Saturday's ninth inning and bring the tying run to the plate and nobody out. He then retired the next two batters, before setting up a showdown with Sammy Sosa.

It was the final out of the game that caused near delirium to turn into a somber mood for Cubs fans, who watched Sammy Sosa hit the seventh pitch he saw from Smoltz to the warning track, where an awaiting Andruw Jones ended the game with one of his patented nonchalant catches.

"That's what it's all about," Smoltz said. "I'm not afraid. I know things aren't always going to work my way. I challenged him with what I had and he swung with what he had. Fortunately, he hit it off the end of his bat."

But even though he was able to notch the save, Smoltz, who was nearly unhittable before coming down with tendinitis in his right elbow in August, did allow a run in his third straight appearance.

Smoltz was charged with his fourth blown save opportunity of the year in his final regular-season appearance. That outing, in which he allowed two earned runs against the Phillies, prevented him from ending the year with a sub-1.00 ERA.

If Smoltz does get the opportunity to pitch in Game 5, he will not be at 100 percent and will likely not be at that level until he gets to take an extended break this winter.

Smoltz's refusal to answer questions about how his arm feels proves there is pain. But he has diligently said time and time again over the past month that he won't let the pain keep him from pitching in the postseason.

"If you make good pitches, you're going to get guys out," Smoltz said. "That's my job in the ninth inning."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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