ATLANTA (AP)—The change was evident as soon as the eighth inning ended— no blaring music, no video introduction and, more importantly, no John Smoltz.
Kent Mercker closed it out in place of Smoltz, who went on the disabled list earlier in the day with tendinitis in his right elbow. The problem is not considered serious, however, and he’s not expected to have any lingering effects when he returns Sept. 8.
“You’ve just got to do what you normally do,” said Mercker, who got his first save since 1992. “Your goal is to get three outs before they tie the score.”
It was the first time a pitcher other than Smoltz earned a save for Atlanta since Jung Keun Bong did it in a 15-3 victory over Cincinnati on May 28.
Smoltz leads the majors with 44 saves. Bong was called up from Triple-A Richmond to replace him in the bullpen and should join the team Thursday.
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox won’t name a single replacement for Smoltz, choosing instead to make the decision on a game-by-game basis.
“We’ll switch it around, we’ll move those guys in and out,” Cox said.
Maddux (13-10) pitched around a 29-minute rain delay in the fourth to win his second straight start. With at least five starts left this season, he appears on track to win at least 15 games for a record 16th straight season.
Only Maddux and Cy Young have done it in 15 consecutive seasons, but Maddux insisted he’s not counting wins at this point.
“You can’t win two games in one day, so why worry about it?” he said. “It’s not going to help me pitch better to think about it, I know that. I’ve been there, done that. I really don’t think about it.”
To keep loose during the delay, Maddux threw one session of live batting practice to his teammates in an indoor cage.
“You can do it with a guy like me, but you can’t do it with a young guy,” Maddux said. “I’ve already had my career, I don’t have anything to risk at this point.”
He went six innings against the Mets and allowed only three hits, including a mammoth solo homer by Mike Piazza in the fifth, his second in two days. Maddux didn’t walk anyone and struck out five.
“That’s his brand,” New York manager Art Howe said. “It’s not as easy as he makes it look. It was a valuable lesson if we pay attention to it.”
Cox waited to remove Maddux until he came out to start the seventh, when Maddux had a tough time warming up. Kevin Gryboski took over and got two quick outs, then loaded the bases on a walk and two hit batters.
Mercker walked Marco Scutaro leading off the ninth, and Piazza singled with one out. But Mercker retired the next two batters to end it.
“I was nervous,” he said. “If I get another chance to do that, I’ll be a little more relaxed.”
Marcus Giles added three hits for Atlanta, which won for the fourth time in five games. The Braves have a 15-game lead in the NL East.
“It’s going to be awfully difficult to catch them,” Howe said. “They have depth. They have that thing called experience, too. They’ve been there before.”
Heilman struggled through three innings, allowing three runs on five hits and walking four. He didn’t return after the rain delay.
“That guy might have 400 or 500 starts in him,” Maddux said. “You don’t(throw) that away on a rainy night in Atlanta.”
Piazza’s home run was his 347th as a catcher, four shy of Carlton Fisk’s record. … New York OF Roger Cedeno missed the game to be with his 3-year-old daughter, who had minor surgery at a nearby hospital. Michele Cedeno was in Atlanta for the three-game series against the Braves when she got sick. … New York LHP Pedro Feliciano left in the sixth with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. … The crowd of 23,755 pushed the Braves over the2 million mark for the 13th straight season.