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Johnny on the spot10/11/2004 2:47 AM ET
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- For a few seconds, John Smoltz experienced a Jose Lima-like moment.
After inducing a game-ending, and Division Series-saving double-play grounder from Jeff Kent to end Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, John Smoltz let out an exuberant scream while clinching his right fist. It the type of exhilarating outburst that would have made Lima, the animated Dodgers' right-hander, proud.
Of all the wins Smoltz has enjoyed in his distinguished career, this was especially sweet.
"I'll take this one," Smoltz said after the Braves' breathtaking 6-5 victory over the Astros before a screaming sellout crowd of 43,336 at Minute Maid Park.
Not only did Smoltz's two scoreless innings solidify a Game 4 win, setting up a decisive Game 5 on Monday at Turner Field, it also was a record-setting performance by the dependable right-hander.
Smoltz now holds the postseason record for victories with 14.
A year ago, Smoltz notched No. 13, collecting a win in Game 2 of the Division Series with the Cubs on Oct. 1. That felt different because Smoltz blew a save in that game, but still was credited with the win after the Braves prevailed, 5-3.
"The one last year I didn't want to take, because I gave up a run to get it," Smoltz said. "This was special."
With their season on the balance, Smoltz had to dig deep and battle out of some tough jams.
Entering with the score tied, 5-5, in the eighth, the Astros mounted a two-out threat. Brad Ausmus and Jason Lane each singled, putting runners on the corners for pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro, who batted for closer Brad Lidge.
Palmeiro tapped a grounder that nearly squeezed into right field for a run-scoring hit. First baseman Adam LaRoche lunged for the ball, but it was out of his reach. Second baseman Marcus Giles collected the ball deep in the hole. After hesitating momentarily, Smoltz sprinted to the bag and grabbed Giles' toss just in time to nip Palmeiro for the third out.
"I almost messed up," Smoltz said. "I almost made the worst mistake of my career. For some reason, I thought LaRoche was either next to the bag or he had the ball, and I stopped. I can't tell you what was flashing through my mind when I was running to the bag. That obviously was a huge play."
Drama built again in the ninth.
After striking out Carlos Beltran to open the inning, Jeff Bagwell singled to right. Lance Berkman followed with a terrific eight-pitch at-bat and slapped a single through short on a full count with Bagwell running. The ball would have been right at shortstop Rafael Furcal if he wasn't moving to cover second.
The single put runners on the corner for Kent.
Looking to work Kent away, Smoltz succeeded in getting a hard grounder to Furcal, who stepped on second and rifled to first, ending the game.
The emotions took over from there and Smoltz was animated more than usual.
"The one thing I'm trying to do, without my best stuff, is try to get him to pull the ball on the outside corner," Smoltz said of his plan for Kent. "I've faced Jeff Kent so much, I know what he's trying to do. All I'm trying to do is get him to roll the ball over somewhere. Luckily it happened. I caught a break, and I know it. I feel very fortunate that it happened."
Nothing has come easy for the Braves all season. Why should staving off elimination be anything different?
From the vantage point Chipper Jones had at third base, it was vintage Smoltz.
"Nothing surprises me about Smoltzie," Jones said. "He's one of the best athletes I've seen in my entire life.
"He's one of those guys who is a very intense competitor. He doesn't like to lose in anything. The man is good at everything he does. That's one teammate you want on the hill when the chips are down. I want him on the mound when the game is on the line, because that gives us our best shot at winning."
As dependable as Smoltz is, Jones thought for a second that Kent's grounder was headed into center field.
"When he first hit it, I thought it was up the middle, but Raffy was standing right there and when he caught it was tailor made," Jones said. "When he caught it, it was hard not to get a little excited."
A rejuvenated Braves team is heading back to Atlanta where the opposition has celebrated at Turner Field the past four seasons.
While recent history hasn't been kind to the Braves, Smoltz points out this team is different. Basically, it's because a number of players from the past are gone, replaced by youngsters and newcomers who weren't supposed to even be in the playoffs this year.
"This year, we shouldn't be here," Smoltz said. "This team shouldn't be here. That's a credit to everybody chipping in and doing their part."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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