But John Smoltz offered no excuses for his brief outing — a mere 2-1/3 innings — because he had none. Not the chill that dipped to 29 degrees with the wind, nor the blustery breeze itself, swirling up to 22 miles per hour.
“I wish I could do it all over again,” said the right-hander, hours after the Atlanta Braves had dropped Game 3 of the World Series 7-6 in the 11th inning Tuesday night at Jacobs Field. “After 14 days off, I didn’t expect to go 2-1/3 innings. I threw a lot of good pitches. It’s a little frustrating.”
Without prompting, he added, “I’d love to have another chance, in a Game 7. I’ll keep that in the back of my head for now.”
Earlier in the week, though, both Smoltz and Indians manager Mike Hargrove seemed to have a sense that the dormant Cleveland bats would be awakened by the mere prospect of facing a hard-thrower. Finesse pitchers such as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine baffle them. Power pitchers like Smoltz and Game 4 starter Steve Avery, it is said, work to their favor.
“That lineup has a lot of power,” Smoltz acknowledged earlier in the week. “After looking at all the offspeed stuff from Greg [Maddux] and Tom [Glavine] in the first two games, they’re probably thinking, ‘whew.’ ”
Braves manager Bobby Cox (right) pulls starting pitcher John Smoltz after a disastrous start in Game 3 of the World Series Oct. 24, 1995, in Cleveland. (Jonathan Newton/AJC)
It was more like WHOMP!
Long before Smoltz had time to fully appreciate the chilly elements, he was seated in the visitors dugout, mere yards from an electric heater. He allowed six hits and four earned runs, striking out four. And, it’s true. Several balls skittered just beyond the infielders' reach, or in the case of Carlos Baerga, bounced just in front of a charging Luis Polonia in left.
Baerga’s hit was the one that troubled Smoltz. “It was a fastball down and in,” said Smoltz. “He just hit the ball hard into left. That’s the one that hurt.”
The only ball hit with any pop was Kenny Lofton’s leadoff double off the centerfield wall in the third. But it was the troublesome Lofton, whose offense the previous two games was enhanced by four stolen bases, who ignited the Indians offense with a first-inning single. Omar Vizquel tripled into right, scoring Lofton. And after Baerga grounded to Fred McGriff, Vizquel scored, and the Indians had their first lead of the Series.
Smoltz appeared in control in the second, but after allowing consecutive hits by Lofton, Vizquel and then Baerga and Albert Belle, and the deficit having expanded to 4-1, Braves manager Bobby Cox moved restlessly to the top step of the dugout.
Smoltz had one more chance, Jim Thome.
And he walked him.
Cox immediately went to the mound and signaled for reliever Brad Clontz. Smoltz thus continued his current postseason stretch of no decisions. He received no decision in the Braves’ 10-inning, 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 2 of the NLCS, and no decision in a 7-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies in the third game of the Division Series.
Yet, prior to last night, the hard-throwing hurler was 1-0 with a 1.95 ERA in four career Series starts.
Asked if it was difficult mentally to follow Maddux and Glavine, both of whom earned victories in their two starts, Smoltz shook his head. “I threw a lot of good pitches,” he said. “It’s a shame.”
Perhaps that Game 7 opportunity looms.
Game 1: Greg Maddux pitches 2-hit masterpiece
Game 2: Javy Lopez puts Atlanta in command