Reds 11, Braves 8

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ATLANTA (AP)—John Smoltz is used to closing out games for the Atlanta Braves. Blowing saves is something he’s not accustomed to.

“It’s a shock to your system,” he said. “It’s embarrassing.”

Javier Valentin hit a three-run homer to cap Cincinnati’s five-run comeback in the ninth inning off Smoltz, leading the Reds to an 11-8 victory over the Braves on Wednesday night.

Chipper Jones’ three-run homer in the seventh gave the Braves an 8-6 lead, but Smoltz (0-1) gave up four hits and five runs, walking a batter and throwing two wild pitches while recording only one out in the ninth.

“He just got some pitches down the middle,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “Nothing is wrong with him. It’s just location.”

Smoltz blew a save for the fifth time in 45 chances and saw his ERA climb from 2.34 to 2.91.

Jones isn’t not worried about Smoltz, “so long as he gets it ironed out in the next 10 days.”

“I have to believe that once it’s go-time and we put all the chips on the table, we’ll see a different Smoltz than we’ve seen the last couple of outings,” Jones said.

In two appearances against the Reds this week, Smoltz has given up seven hits and six runs in 1 1-3 innings. He earned his 40th save Tuesday night despite giving up three hits and a run, but he couldn’t escape again Wednesday night

“They fouled off my real good pitches and hit the ones that were so-so,” Smoltz said.

“You don’t handle him very often,” Reds manager Dave Miley said. “You have to enjoy it when you do.”

Despite the loss, the Braves could clinch their 13th straight division title on Thursday—thanks to Philadelphia’s 12-4 win over Florida.

In the top of the ninth, Felipe Lopez singled, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Sean Casey’s single. Casey went to second on another wild pitch and scored on D’Angelo Jimenez’s double to right one out later.

“It’s sweet to win against a big-time pitcher like him,” Jimenez said.

Pinch-hitter Jacob Cruz was intentionally walked and Valentin followed with a homer to right on a 2-2 count for his fourth hit.

Valentin said he was looking for a fastball when Smoltz threw a split-finger pitch down the middle.

“I was not trying to do too much,” Valentin said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball right now. … I put good wood on it. I knew I hit the ball good.”

Phil Norton (2-5) recorded one out in the eighth to earn the win for the Reds, who had a season-high 17 hits against eight Braves pitchers. Rookie Joe Valentine earned his second save despite walking two batters in the bottom of the ninth.

The Braves scored three runs in the sixth off Reds starter Josh Hancock and took the lead with three runs in the seventh on Jones’ homer off reliever John Riedling.

The three RBIs gave Jones 91, including 57 since the All-Star break. He’s trying to reach 100 RBIs for the ninth straight season.

In the first, Giles homered with one out and Hancock walked two but would’ve escaped the inning with only one run allowed if not for a throwing error by shortstop Anderson Machado on Adam LaRoche’s grounder.

After the error, Hancock retired the next 13 through the fifth inning.

The Reds tied it against Paul Byrd in the second on back-to-back doubles by Adam Dunn and Jimenez, and a fielder’s choice grounder by Machado.

Dunn’s two-out single to right drove in Lopez in the third inning for a 3-2 Reds lead.

The Reds added three unearned runs in the fourth as Byrd and LaRoche committed throwing errors. Byrd threw wildly to first after fielding a grounder by Machado, allowing Valentin to score from first. LaRoche’s one-hop throw to the plate bounced past catcher Johnny Estrada, allowing Machado to score.

Casey had an RBI single in the fourth to make it 6-2.

In the sixth, Hancock gave up a sacrifice fly to Estrada and a two-run double by LaRoche that skipped past Casey at first base.

Byrd allowed 10 hits and six runs, three earned, in four innings.

Hancock gave up five runs—four earned—on only three hits and five walks in 5 2-3 innings.


Riedling is 0-for-7 in save opportunities. … Byrd’s four-inning outing was his shortest since he lasted only two against Florida on June 30. … A line drive by Giles hit Hancock near his right hip and bounced past Lopez at third base for an infield hit to open the sixth. Hancock stayed in after throwing two practice pitches with a trainer and Reds pitching coach Don Gullett standing by the mound.

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