Superb Smoltz stops Mets for 200th win
Right-hander tosses seven shutout innings as Braves roll
ATLANTA -- There are countless reasons John Smoltz wishes that he could have spent his entire career in Atlanta with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. From a selfish perspective, he believes their prolonged presence would have made him even better than he is today.
Of course, those who have watched him display nothing but dominance against two of the Major League's top offenses over the past five days might argue that Smoltz would have a tough time being any greater than he's been since he turned 40.
What started out as another mission to better one of his best friends turned into one of the most memorable nights of Smoltz's life. His ability to once again outduel Glavine and lead the Braves to a momentum-building 2-1 win over the Mets at Turner Field on Thursday night produced an emotionally-charged postgame ovation that he'll never forget.
The majority of the 36,660 fans who had come out to see two Atlanta legends battle each other were pleased to see the Braves claim another series victory, which moved them to within 1 1/2 games of the Mets in the National League East standings. But the heartfelt and impressive display of gratitude they showed was aimed toward Smoltz, who had just captured the 200th win of his career.
"It's pretty neat," said Smoltz, who surrendered seven hits in seven scoreless innings. "It's just a number. But it's a nice number and I think everybody contributed in an incredible way."
On this night, the offensive contributions came from Jeff Francoeur, who had a first-inning sacrifice fly, and Matt Diaz, who began the second inning with an opposite-field homer.
Then, to wrap things up after the Mets had put runners on second and third with just one out, was the dependable Bob Wickman, who allowed the home crowd to roar after getting Jose Reyes to end things with a harmless infield pop fly.
But dating back to 1988, when they first joined each other in Atlanta's rotation, it's been Glavine who has contributed in terms of the fact that he seemingly always brings out the best in Smoltz. When they were teammates, they were determined to better the other's performance and that same determination has been evident each of the four times they've opposed each other.
"There's something special about knowing that the other guy is going to battle harder than you or just as hard," said Smoltz, who has seen the Braves win each of the four career games, including three this year, that he's been pitted against Glavine.
Glavine, who allowed two earned runs on five hits in six innings, was obviously happy for his friend. But after seeing his team lose for the sixth time in nine games against the Braves this year, he wasn't exactly ready to celebrate Smoltz's milestone victory.
|"I can't say who I beat for my 200th [win]," Glavine said. "But I'm sure John will remember who he beat for his 200th."|
|-- Mets starter Tom Glavine|
"I know how important to him it is and under normal circumstances, I'd be thrilled for him," said Glavine, who recorded 242 wins and notched two Cy Young Awards in Atlanta from 1987-2002. "But on a day like this, if you get what you want, your buddy ends up [taking] a loss."
When Kelly Johnson botched Shawn Green's potential double-play grounder in the ninth inning, it looked like Smoltz might have to wait for his milestone. But Wickman responded by allowing just one unearned run while retiring the next three batters. When shortstop Edgar Renteria secured Reyes' pop fly, Smoltz unexpectedly came out of the dugout to hug many of his teammates and enjoy the wave of emotions provided by the fans.
"I don't come out for many different things," Smoltz said. "But I wanted to come out and show my appreciation for what the [crowd] had done. They elevated the game today for us and for me. My fastball was the best I've had in a long time. The feeling in the stands was pretty neat."
Smoltz, who becomes the first pitcher to record both 200 wins and 150 saves in a career, has simply registered 14 consecutive scoreless innings against the Red Sox and Mets. All of this has come since he dislocated his right thumb on May 14, the day before his 40th birthday.
|"I wanted to come out and show my appreciation for what the [crowd] had done. They elevated the game today for us and for me. My fastball was the best I've had in a long time. The feeling in the stands was pretty neat."|
|-- John Smoltz|
"He's one of those guys that's highly competitive," Cox said. "He's a manager's dream to have on your team. ... He's been a delight to have."
Of course, given the opportunity, Cox would have been delighted to have been able to also keep Glavine around forever. Since ending his days in Atlanta, Glavine has made 18 starts against the Braves, going 3-11 with a 5.34 ERA. But in his past nine starts against them, he's 2-3 with a very respectable 2.25 ERA.
Glavine's turnaround against his former employer came on July 15, 2005, the night that he and Smoltz first opposed each other. In their four matchups, Glavine actually has a better ERA (2.56) than the current Braves hurler (3.16).
But Smoltz is the one who has seen his team notch four victories, and somewhere down the line, Glavine knows that he's going to hear about this on some golf course.
"I can't say who I beat for my 200th [win]," Glavine said. "But I'm sure John will remember who he beat for his 200th."
The Braves will say that the night's most important development was winning a third consecutive series against the Mets. But down the road, the night will primarily be remembered because of the fact that Smoltz reached his milestone while going against one of those close friends who has always been able to bring out the best in him.
"This one, the script couldn't have been written any better," Chipper Jones said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.