Braves 8, Orioles 7
“Obviously, I did not want to have a heartbreak in the ninth inning,” Smoltz said.
Atlanta’s closer did the job, striking out Lopez and retiring Larry Bigbie on a grounder to preserve a much-needed victory Sunday.
J.D. Drew homered in a seven-run eighth inning, and the Braves used their biggest comeback of the season to take two of three from Baltimore and end a run of five straight series losses.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again,” Smoltz said of the rally.
Atlanta trailed 7-0 after six innings, but scored a run in the seventh and then got seven hits in the eighth.
“Generally, you don’t have a lot of comebacks when you’re down seven runs with two at-bats to go,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “But they were whooping and hollering in the dugout to get it going.
“And they did.”
The last-place Orioles, who have lost seven straight series, wasted an outstanding pitching performance by Matt Riley. The rookie took a shutout into the seventh inning and left with a 7-1 lead, but the bullpen gave it away.
Asked if it was the team’s toughest loss, rookie manager Lee Mazzilli said, “It is for me. … When you give up seven runs like that, it’s tough to swallow.”
Eli Marrero led off the eighth with a single off Mike DeJean and Drew followed with his 15th homer. After Chipper Jones singled, Jason Grimsley (3-4) entered and threw wildly to second on a comebacker.
“It’s not a good play,” Grimsley said. “There’s no excuse for that. That’s two outs I gave away there, then I strike out Andruw Jones and the inning’s over.”
After Jones struck out, Johnny Estrada and Mark DeRosa both hit RBI singles. Nick Green then doubled in a run and Rafael Furcal tied it with an infield hit before Marrero drove in the tiebreaking run by hitting into a fielder’s choice.
“We have to build on this,” Smoltz said. “We have to remember we are capable of this. We haven’t done one of these all year, really.”
Juan Cruz (1-0) pitched the seventh inning, and Smoltz earned his 13th save by getting four outs—none more important than the strikeout of Lopez with the infield drawn in.
“You think hopefully you’re going to get a run in, but we didn’t do it,” Mazzilli said. “That’s why Smoltz is what he is.”
Atlanta starter Jaret Wright was victimized by poor fielding in his bid to win his fourth straight decision.
The Orioles opened the scoring with two unearned runs in the third. After a throw by second baseman Jesse Garcia pulled shortstop Furcal off the bag on an attempted force play, Miguel Tejada drove in a run with a grounder and Rafael Palmeiro hit a two-out RBI single.
Baltimore went up 7-0 with a five-run sixth that began with two straight outs. After Lopez singled, Garcia was slow to cover second base on Bigbie’s grounder to short, and Furcal’s throw to first was too late.
A single by Julio Franco, a double by Andruw Jones and a run-scoring single by Estrada spelled the end for Riley, who left to a standing ovation.
That started the comeback, but Smoltz couldn’t help thinking about how poorly the Braves played to that point.
“That’s probably the worst baseball game we have won in a long time,” he said. “Hopefully that’s a good sign. It’s not a good sign the way we playedtoday’s baseball game.”
Newhan extended his career-high hitting streak to nine games. … Atlanta’s seventh-inning run ended a string of 24 innings by Baltimore starterswithout yielding an earned run.