ATLANTA (AP)—Advantage, Pedro.
Pedro Martinez outpitched John Smoltz to gain the upper hand in their personal duel and the New York Mets strengthened their hold on first place in the NL East, getting two homers from David Wright in a 5-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
Martinez (5-0) pitched four-hit ball over seven innings, a dominating performance that was marred only by Chipper Jones’ two-run homer in the sixth on an 0-2 pitch.
“The guy still knows how to pitch,” Jones said. “He’s not throwing 96 (mph) like used to, but he’s sinking it, he’s cutting it, he’s changing speeds on us.”
The 38-year-old Smoltz also went seven innings, striking out 10 and hanging around long enough to throw 122 pitches. But he left trailing 3-2, and Chris Reitsma gave up two more runs in the ninth to seal the Braves’ fourth straight loss.
“I felt like it was my best stuff of the year,” Smoltz said. “You’re like, ‘How in the world did I give up three runs?”’
Wright homered off Smoltz (1-2) in the fifth and went deep on Reitsma in the ninth. He also had a sacrifice fly, making up for a dismal series against the Braves last week. He went 0-for-9 and made three errors in the final game.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit lately,” Wright said. “It’s good to get back in the groove.”
New York stretched its lead over the Braves to six games, but Martinez said it’s too early to get excited about knocking off a team that has won 14 straight division titles.
“It’s not a big deal right now,” he said. “You can’t choose who’s going to be the winner right now. … I’m hoping it’s us. But we’ve got to go out and prove it.”
With 379 wins and 1,062 appearances between them coming into the game, Smoltz and Martinez were facing each other for the sixth time.
Four of those games came last season—two wins for Smoltz, two for Martinez. The other head-to-head matchup came during the strike-shortened 1994 season, when Martinez got the win pitching for the Montreal Expos and Smoltz didn’t figure in the decision.
“It’s the closest thing you can get to a playoff game,” Smoltz said.
Smoltz managed his 37th career game with double-figure strikeouts—his first since he fanned 15 against the Mets last April. He lost that one, too, with Martinez getting the win in New York’s 6-1 victory.
“It’s the fifth time we’ve faced each other over the last two years,” Smoltz said. “He’s up 3-2, but it’s been five great games.”
Smoltz broke a tie with Bob Feller for 23rd on baseball’s career strikeout list, then passed Warren Spahn for 22nd. As if that wasn’t enough, Smoltz made the best defensive play of the night in the sixth when Kaz Matsui hit a bouncer to the right of the mound. The pitcher grabbed the ball with his bare hand, threw back across his body and got Matsui at first by about a half-step.
“Smoltz is not easy,” Martinez said. “Any mistake you make, it’s going to be costly. Luckily for me, I made only one mistake.”
Martinez retired the first seven Atlanta hitters and didn’t run into any serious trouble until the sixth. Smoltz led off with an infield single, but the rally appeared to fizzle when Martinez retired the next two hitters and got two quick strikes on Jones.
The next pitch hung over the plate, and Jones crushed a two-run shot over a picture of Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews on the wall just to the left of center.
“I was trying to bury a cutter low and away,” Martinez said. “I threw it a little harder. Mistake. It stayed up and matched his bat speed.”
Otherwise, Martinez was on cruise control. The 5-0 start matches the second-best of his career, surpassed only by eight straight wins to start the 1997 season.
Reyes was right in the middle of things again in the fourth. With a runner at second and the crowd roaring after consecutive strikeouts by Smoltz, Reyes got hold of a 3-2 pitch and sent a triple to the gap in right-center. He trotted into third without a slide, clapping his hands furiously and pointing at the sky.
Wright went even deeper in the fifth. On a 1-2 pitch, he drove his fourth homer of the season over the left-field wall to make it 3-0.
The Braves played just their seventh home game of the season, compared with 15 on the road (not including a rainout at Washington). After a five-game homestand, Atlanta heads off on another long road trip—eight games in nine days at Philadelphia, New York and Florida. … Braves SS Edgar Renteria returned to the lineup after missing nine games and extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a ninth-inning single. … Mets 1B Julio Franco received a standing ovation when he came up as a pinch hitter in the eighth. The 47-year-old Franco, who played for the Braves from 2001-05, stepped out of the box and tipped his helmet. Then he hit into a double play.