Smoltz sets new Braves strikeout record
Veteran righty passes Phil Niekro during Sunday's game
ATLANTA -- John Smoltz was all about the strikeout on Sunday afternoon. He set the Braves' all-time franchise strikeout record in the third inning against the Diamondbacks, and then kept extending it.
Smoltz recorded a season-high 12 strikeouts during his eight innings of Atlanta's 6-2 win at Turner Field. His fifth strikeout gave him 2,913 for his career, breaking the franchise mark of Phil Niekro, who played with the Braves in Milwaukee and Atlanta.
"It doesn't get more impressive than that," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Eleven of Smoltz's 12 strikeouts were of the swinging variety, as only Justin Upton went down looking. Every Arizona starter struck out at least once, except for right fielder Jeff Salazar, who was 1-for-4 with a double.
Smoltz wanted a chance to extend the record even further, but Cox removed him from the game after eight innings and 122 pitches, the most Smoltz has thrown in a game since April.
"I tried [to stay in the game]," Smoltz said. "We've always talked about the danger pitches, when you get over 115 pitches. I just wanted to do it, because I was feeling so good, but [Cox] made the wiser choice. I can tell you that somewhere down the road, I'm going to pitch a complete game."
On the pitch before the record-breaking strikeout, the Diamondbacks executed a double steal, with Chris Young scoring from third when Atlanta catcher Brian McCann threw to second with Orlando Hudson running. Second baseman Kelly Johnson cut off the throw but was unable to nab Young at the plate.
That run tied the game, 2-2, but Smoltz was dominant after the third, finding command of all of his pitches and allowing just one hit over his final five innings.
Smoltz, who debuted with Atlanta in 1988, has 142 strikeouts this season. With approximately seven more starts left, he could reach 200 for the sixth time in his career and the first since 2005, when he fanned 211. He set a career high with 276 strikeouts in 1996, when he finished 24-8 and won the National League Cy Young Award.
He has endured a lot of factors -- including injuries and a switch to closer for three-plus years -- that have hampered his ability to rack up strikeouts. But he's the all-time Braves record holder now, and someday he might celebrate that fact.
"It's certainly an honor that I'll think about later," Smoltz said. "But I've been an eyelash away from games like this, where I dictate and the team feeds off of it. To get that today was doubly special."
Jeff Lutz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.