Smoltz picks up first win against Dodgers since April 1999

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Less than two weeks from his 40th birthday, John Smoltz looks as dominant as ever.

Smoltz pitched seven shutout innings for his first win over the Dodgers in more than eight years, and the Atlanta Braves beat Los Angeles 4-0 in a matchup of first-place teams Friday night.

"That was vintage Smoltz," manager Bobby Cox said. "My goodness."

Smoltz (4-1) escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth on the way to his first win over Los Angeles since April 19, 1999. He picked up his 197th career win and, the way things are going, figures to have a shot at No. 200 shortly after he turns 40 on May 15.

"I'm not going to go out there and strike out guys like I did in years past," Smoltz said. "But I'm going to be on the attack. Hopefully what I've learned to do is not give in to certain circumstances."

Brian McCann returned to the lineup with a two-run double and Jeff Francoeur drove in Atlanta's other runs with a fifth-inning single.

Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano finished off the eight-hit shutout with one scoreless inning apiece.

Brett Tomko (0-3) surrendered a season-high six walks and went to three balls on two other hitters in 4 2/3 innings. The Braves forced him to throw strikes and took advantage when he did, scoring all their runs with two outs.

That's nothing new. Atlanta leads the majors in two-out production, scoring more than half its runs -- 74 of 146 -- in those situations.

"Don't even ask me about that anymore," Cox said with a smile. "I don't have an answer to that one."

In the first, Edgar Renteria reached on a one-out single -- extending his hitting streak to 13 games -- and Chipper Jones walked. Andruw Jones popped out to bring up McCann, who missed the previous game with a sore finger after getting caught on the back of the mitt with a swing.

McCann worked the count full, then lined an outside pitch into the left-field corner for an opposite-field double. Just like that, Smoltz had a two-run lead. He felt like it was his game to lose.

"That's the greatest feeling in the world for a starting pitcher," Smoltz said.

Tomko couldn't believe that McCann was able to get his bat on the pitch, which appeared to be several inches off the plate.

"It wasn't even close to being a strike," Tomko said.

The NL West-leading Dodgers had a chance to get back in the game when they loaded the bases with three straight singles to start the fourth. But Andre Ethier popped to shortstop, former Brave Wilson Betemit struck out swinging and Ramon Martinez flied to left.

Willie Harris made a nice running catch cutting into the gap on Martinez, the second straight game that the new left fielder has helped the Braves with defense. He made a diving catch in the ninth inning of a 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday.

"When I'm pitching, the outfielders are the most important players on the field," Smoltz said. "When Willie Harris made that catch, I though that would be their last chance to score."

Smoltz gave up half of his six hits that inning. He also walked two and struck out six. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his seven starts this season.

Tomko loaded the bases with three walks in the fifth and couldn't escape the mess of his own making. Sensing the pitcher would come in with a strike, Francoeur jumped on the first pitch and sent a liner toward left-center. Juan Pierre raced in for a diving attempt, but the ball skidded off the top of his glove as two runners raced home.

Tomko's knees buckled as he watched from the mound, and he shot a brief glance toward Pierre on the way to the dugout after getting yanked.

"I was looking for something away so I could get my bat on it," Francoeur said. "I was lucky to get a little help from Pierre, but I'll take it."

Tomko has never had much success in Atlanta, dropping to 0-4 with an 8.88 ERA in five career starts at Turner Field.

"I thought I threw the ball decent," said Tomko, who allowed his most walks since May 31, 2005, when he also walked six. "I didn't think I was wild. I was just missing."

Smoltz's career mark against Los Angeles improved to 16-13. But he had fewer chances to beat the Dodgers while missing all of 2000 recovering from elbow surgery, then spending three-plus seasons as the closer, picking up 154 saves.

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