PITTSBURGH (AP)—For almost two decades now, it’s been the same thing for the Atlanta Braves.
Every fifth day—with the exception of his three-year tenure as an All-Star closer—John Smoltz has taken the mound and most often provided a solid start.
Smoltz snapped Atlanta’s four-game losing streak Tuesday night by pitching seven strong innings in a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had won a season-best five straight.
“Smoltzie, we know he’s always going to get you a great game,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “Nothing that happens surprises me about John. You expect greatness every time out.”
Smoltz (9-5), a 19-year veteran who hasn’t lost since June 13, yielded one run and six hits while walking none and striking out six. The Braves won the first game of a six-game road trip after losing five of six at home last week.
Adam LaRoche hit two home runs and Marcus Giles had three doubles, a run and an RBI for Atlanta, which was coming off a home sweep at the hands of the New York Mets that dropped the Braves 15 games out of the NL East lead and 6 1/2 games behind in the wild-card race.
“When my turn comes, it doesn’t matter if we have a four-game winning streak or a four-game losing streak, my job is to be accountable,” said Smoltz, who has spent his entire career with the Braves.
“I approached it today as an absolute must-win. There is no other way to approach it.”
Smoltz outpitched Ian Snell, who had 10 strikeouts in seven innings. Jack Wilson had two hits and Jeromy Burnitz an RBI double for Pittsburgh at steamy PNC Park, where the gametime temperature was a humid 86 degrees.
“We played a good ballgame tonight,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. “We got beat by a pretty good pitcher. That’s what it boils down to.”
LaRoche, who has hit two homers in a game three times in the past three weeks, had solo shots into the right-field seats off Snell (9-7) in the third and sixth. It was LaRoche’s sixth career multihomer game and fourth this season.
“Some days I feel great and I feel like I will hit everything out of the ballpark and other days I feel like it’s the first day of spring training,” LaRoche said. “I need to work that out.”
The new-look Pirates made four trades Monday before the non-waiver deadline, adding four new players to the roster—three of whom saw action.
Xavier Nady started at first base in his Pittsburgh debut and went 1-for-4 with a single. He also made a nice defensive play in the eighth inning.
Primarily an outfielder during his major league career, Nady was acquired in a deal with the New York Mets. He played 44 games at first base for San Diego last season.
Pirates center fielder and leadoff hitter Chris Duffy went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts after being recalled from Triple-A, and reliever Josh Sharpless made his major league debut in the eighth. He walked three batters but did not allow a run.
Snell, who allowed four runs and nine hits, tied a career high for strikeouts, a mark he set June 5 at Colorado.
“I came out today focused and ready to pitch against a future Hall of Famer and a good team,” Snell said. “I made a few mistakes, and it cost me.”
Bob Wickman worked the ninth for his 18th save in 21 opportunities this season. It was his third in three tries with the Braves.
“It was a tough homestand, and this is a good way to get out on a road trip,” Cox said.
LaRoche’s 21st home run came after Snell retired his first six batters— four on strikeouts.
“It’s big to get a lead,” LaRoche said. “The pitchers get a little cushion, a little more confidence to go at guys and be more aggressive.”
Giles, who also had an RBI double in the fifth, made it 2-0 with two outs in the fourth when he scored from second on Brian McCann’s pop fly to shallow left that dropped for an RBI single when Jason Bay couldn’t reach it in time.
“For whatever reason, on the road recently we have been jumping ahead and staying ahead,” Smoltz said.
Burnitz cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fourth when his two-out double high off the right-field wall scored Freddy Sanchez, who had also doubled.
But Smoltz—for whom the Atlanta bullpen has blown six potential wins this season—allowed only three more baserunners.
“We got seven good innings out of (Smoltz),” Giles teased. “Shocker, isn’t it?”
LaRoche also had two home runs July 14 and July 24. … Pirates starters have pitched into the seventh inning in five of their last six games. … Snell is averaging 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings, moving into the top 10 in the NL in that category. … This was the first meeting between the teams in exactly one year.