NEW YORK (AP)—John Smoltz began thinking about his Sunday start early on Saturday.
The veteran Atlanta right-hander normally avoids obsessing about his pitching assignments too far in advance, but he knew the Braves needed a strong performance to avoid getting swept by the New York Mets.
They got one.
Smoltz (2-2) showed no signs of being bothered by pitching on three days’ rest, giving up just three hits in six strong innings to help the Braves beat the Mets 13-3.
“We had to win this game and I had to be at the top of my game,” Smoltz said.
He was—even at the plate. He drove in two runs, and scored after leading off the seventh with a double.
“Smoltzie, I thought, was just outstanding,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. “He pitched a great game, had great stuff today and he picked us up when we needed one real bad.”
It was a much-needed victory for Atlanta, which dropped nine games out of first place after Saturday’s loss to the Mets. It was the first time since Aug. 11, 1993, that the winners of 14 straight division titles had been that far back in their division.
“If we get double digits down, we’re not going to come back,” Smoltz said. “As it is right now, it’s almost a hard trek for us to crawl back into this. The one thing that we have done is we’ve not given up at all and we’ve played hard every game. And that’ll translate into some success.”
In the first two games of the series, the Braves lost after squandering late-inning leads. There was no chance of that Sunday, especially with Smoltz cruising and Francoeur’s sixth-inning drive off reliever Bartolome Fortunato. Francoeur also scored after tripling in the fifth, and drove in a run with a bases-loaded single in the seventh.
Smoltz struck out eight, including the 2,600th strikeout of his career, and walked two.
“Felt like total control,” said Smoltz, who was pitching on three days’ rest for the 18th time in his career.
Carlos Beltran hit a solo home run for New York, which had a four-game winning streak stopped. It was Beltran’s third straight game with a homer.
Atlanta took the lead in the second inning on a play that saw both New York catcher Paul Lo Duca and Cox get ejected.
With runners on first and third and one out, Smoltz hit a tapper in front of the plate against Jose Lima (0-1). Lo Duca fielded the ball with his right hand and lunged back in an attempt to tag Atlanta’s Brian McCann. Plate umpire Angel Hernandez called McCann safe, and Lo Duca slammed the ball to the infield grass while arguing.
“I spiked it pretty good, probably better than Ickey Woods, but I didn’t do the Ickey Shuffle,” Lo Duca said.
Hernandez immediately ejected Lo Duca. Cox got tossed for arguing after Smoltz wasn’t allowed to take second.
After the game, both Lima and Lo Duca said that Hernandez told them that he was calling pitches farther off the plate strikes for Smoltz, but not for Lima.
“When the umpire said ‘I’m going to give you a couple of inches off the plate, but I’m not going to give you 4-5 inches because you’re not John Smoltz,’ I’m trying to protect my pitcher,” Lo Duca said.
Smoltz drove in Jordan with a squeeze bunt in the fifth.
Fortunato, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, lasted just 1 1-3 innings in relief. He gave up eight earned runs and six hits.
Lima, who was called up from Norfolk before the game, gave up five runs and seven hits in five innings. He also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and balked.
Atlanta CF Andruw Jones, who left Saturday’s game with tightness in his back, is day to day. … Braves SS Edgar Renteria’s 22-game hitting streak to start the season is the longest since Detroit’s Ron LeFlore hit in 30 consecutive games to begin the 1976 season. Renteria has a 23-game hitting streak dating to last year. … New York right-hander Victor Zambrano will miss the rest of the season after the Mets placed him on the 60-day disabled list with a torn tendon in his pitching elbow. … Smoltz hit Mets LF Cliff Floyd twice. … Smoltz has a 7-7 record when pitching on three days’ rest.