Morning Juice: Meet the Cards' new Smoltz, same as old Smoltz

This and every weekday a.m. during baseball season, let's rise and shine together to recap the most recent diamond doings. Roll Call starts at PETCO Park in San Diego, where 42-year-old John Smoltz(notes) rediscovered his inner ... John Smoltz.

Game of the Day: Cardinals 5, Padres 2

Schmoltzie: The conditions could not have been much more favorable. Fresh start with a team cruising along in first place; a familiar league; a gigantic ballpark; no designated hitter or other AL lineup annoyances; the weakest-hitting team as the opponent; Albert Pujols(notes) on his side. If John Smoltz were to show he still had it, this was the time.

He's still got it.

Smoltz allowed no runs and three hits over five innings, striking out nine in his Cardinals debut. At one point, he struck out seven straight batters, something he never did even back in the day with the Braves.

Backed by Pujols' 40th homer of the season, Smoltz used an economical-ish 75 pitches before making way for the bullpen.

"I just know it's refreshing to come and do something and feel like the old John," Smoltz said.

Any by that, he means the young John, or at least some semblance of the John we saw before Boston.

Red scare: Smoltz went 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA for the Red Sox, who grew impatient and released him before the Cards picked him up Wednesday.

"I made a conscious decision coming into this start to forget everything else, totally wipe out everything else, and try to go have a little bit of fun and not be caught up in story line and impressing everybody, and it worked," Smoltz said.

"I got into a funk and I'm glad I got out of it."

Not even the intimidating Padres' camo uniforms, or a kamikaze approach by Oscar Salazar(notes) (right) registered against the New/Old/New Old Smoltz and Cards.

An early confrontation against the the best stick in the Padres lineup, Adrian Gonzalez(notes), helped his confidence. San Diego's first two batters reached base, Gonzalez hit into a double play and Smoltz picked up his first strikeout against Chase Headley(notes). And it was on.

"Those are the kind of innings where a bloop here, or a bad pitch there, equates to a bigger inning," Smoltz said. "When I got that double play, which I don't get many, I knew that today could be special."

So, where does Smoltz go from here? Even a solid run as a starting pitcher down the stretch didn't guarantee Smoltz a spot in the postseason rotation, provided the Cardinals need one. They still could use him to set up closer Ryan Franklin(notes). It's a nice problem for pitching coach Dave Duncan and manager Tony La Russa to have.

* * *

Feelin' Rundown (big comebacks here for Steve Avery, Pete Smith and Derek Lilliquist):

Phillies 9, Mets 7: By now you've probably seen the replays of Jeff Francoeur(notes) lining to Eric Bruntlett(notes) for the second game-ending triple play in recorded major league history. But, in case you haven't, be my guest.

"I didn't know how to react. I didn't know what to do," Bruntlett said. "The ninth inning was wild. The whole game it seemed was strange."

It sure was; After the Phillies posted a six-spot in the top of the first, Angel Pagan(notes) (always torn between heaven and Earth, that one) hit an inside-the-park homer Shane Victorino(notes) misjudged a little.

Yankees 8, Red Sox 4: I find myself surprised that Josh Beckett(notes) would let the Yankees be his daddy like that. Starting with Jeetah, five homers overall, and at least one run in each of the first five innings. Terry Francona let him throw 120 pitches. Why, exactly?

Rockies 4, Giants 2: Did the Rockies knock the Giants out of it with this game? Might have. Timmy's tossing a no-no into the sixth, but runs up his pitch count until the unsung Seth Smith(notes) crushes a two-run go-ahead homer in the seventh. Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), other than an early homer to Edgar Renteria(notes), gives up bupkis.

Rangers 4, Rays 0: How about that Scott Feldman(notes), from legal, throwing seven shutout frames for his fifth straight road victory? Joe Maddon says his stuff was actually "better" than that of Mark Buehrle(notes), who no-nothinged the Rays in July. Blasphemous, but Joe beats to his own drum.

Also, I nominate Rangers' right-hander Darren O'Day(notes) for "holder" of the year. He's got 17. Seems like a lot.

Cubs 3, Dodgers 1: The Cubs needed a loss like they needed the team's sale to drag out another couple of months. Thanks to Ryan Dempster(notes) and Jake Fox(notes), who probably should be playing every day (but in the American League as a DH), they got themselves a rare victory.

Twins 10, Royals 3: When a Twin homers twice in the same inning, as Michael Cuddyer(notes) did, it actually makes for four homers. Do the math, it's true!

Orioles 5, White Sox 4: In the six starts since the perfect game Joe Maddon just trashed (kidding), Buehrle is 0-4 with a 6.22 ERA. The Sox split a six-game homestand against the Royals and O's, which doesn't make them sound all that playoff-worthy.

Athletics 9, Tigers 4: The Twins have been given a great gift. They're only 4 1/2 games out of first place. The teams in front of them are not very good. They can take this thing with six strong weeks. Deflate the Metrodome in style. Watch it happen!

D-backs 7, Astros 5: Even though he lost this game, I like that there's a guy out there named Bud Norris(notes).

Reds 4, Pirates 1: Homer Bailey(notes) got through a game, not only without allowing a homer but also without losing the game. Huzzah!

Indians 6, Mariners 1: Faustoric.

Nationals 8, Brewers 3: If Adam Dunn(notes) can kick it up a notch, the Nationals can finish the season with .300 hitters in their first five spots in the order. Hey, it's something.

Blue Jays 8, Angels 3: Romerollin'.

Braves 7, Marlins 5: There's a joke in here somewhere about Renyel Pinto(notes) and Brian McCann(notes) and a can of pinto beans; I just can't quite pull it together.

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