Smoltz was the only Braves player there for the Braves’ entire division-title run, although he missed the 2000 season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He had five arm surgeries in his career while carving out a reputation for competitiveness, toughness and willingness to sacrifice for the team, including agreeing to move to the bullpen for three seasons.
He finished with a 213-155 record, 154 saves, a 3.33 ERA and 3,084 strikeouts in 3,473 innings over 21 seasons, the first 20 of those with the Braves. Additionally, Smoltz ranks among the greatest postseason pitchers with a 15-4 record, four saves, a 2.67 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 209 innings over 41 games (27 starts) in 25 series.
His .789 postseason winning percentage ranks second all-time behind Curt Schilling (.846) among pitchers with at least 10 starts.
Johnson, who finished with 303 wins and five Cy Young Awards, and Martinez, who won three Cy Young Awards in a four-year span from 1997-2000, became the 29th and 30th players named on at least 90 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots. Maddux and Glavine are also in that group, with Maddux getting 97.2 percent and Glavine 91.9.
Johnson ranks second all-time in strikeouts (4,875) and first in strikeouts per nine innings (10.61), while Martinez is third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.04) and led his league in ERA six times on the way to a 219-100 record, 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts in 2,827 1/3 innings.
Smoltz and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley are the only pitchers to have both a 20-win season and 50-save season. Smoltz went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 276 strikeouts in his 1996 Cy Young Award season, and converted a Braves-record 55 saves in his first season as a full-time closer in 2002.
Pitching in his first postseason at age 23 in 1991, Smoltz fired a six-hit shutout to beat the Pirates in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, a harbinger moment for the young right-hander. He was part of an epic duel with Twins veteran ace Jack Morris in Game 7 of the ’91 World Series, when Smoltz pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings on short rest in a 1-0 Braves loss.
During the 1991 season, Smoltz’s third full year in the majors, he was 2-11 with a 5.16 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break. Many were calling for Smoltz to be dropped from the rotation, but Cox wouldn’t do it. Smoltz went 12-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 18 starts after the break.
“He stayed with me, and the second half was history,” Smoltz said last year. “Pitched the seventh game against the Pirates and the seventh game against the Twins and never looked back.”
Cox was the Braves general manager in 1987 when he traded standout veteran pitcher Doyle Alexander to the Tigers for Smoltz, then a 20-year-old prospect in his second minor league season.
Smoltz went 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 major league starts in 1988, then 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA in 208 innings in his first full season in 1989, beginning a 10-year stretch in which he collected 12 or more wins nine times despite injuries. From 1990 through 1997, he pitched 229 or more innings in all six non strike-shortened seasons.