Smoltz facing pressure in Game 2
Braves ace in tough spot, but he's usually up to the challenge
If I wanted to talk to John Smoltz on Thursday -- and I'm not sure that would be a great idea -- I'd probably call him early in the morning. Chances are, I wouldn't wake him up. My experience is that you don't sleep too much the night before a postseason start. John and I have spoken about it; it's the same for him.
Smoltzie's facing a pretty big game on Thursday night. Any postseason game is big. And any start in a best-of-five series is big because you know there's less of a margin for error than you'd have in a best-of-seven series. Now factor in that the Braves lost the first game of their series with the Astros on Wednesday and you get an idea of some of what's going through John's head and why maybe sleep isn't too likely.
There's a lot to think about. There's a sense of urgency in any postseason. But this one has even more than most. The Braves lost the first game, so the naysayers will be talking it up. You know -- "Here we go again." You can turn most of that off, but you hear some of it.
And Smoltz knows that the Braves have to win his game because it's his game. You want to win -- and in a five-game series, you pretty much have to win -- the game your big guy starts. So he's feeling that. He knows his role. He knows how much they're counting on him because, in the postseason, John has always been a special pitcher.
Then add to that, he's going up against Roger Clemens, one of the most revered pitchers in history. That does carry some weight. It's definitely on Smoltz's mind. How much, I can't say. And in the end, you're not pitching against the other pitcher. But when you go up against someone like Clemens, you know you'd better be on your game, because you know you're not going to have five or six runs to work with. It's probably going to be a 3-2 or 2-1 or 1-0 game.
Every pitcher knows what he's up against as soon as he wakes up. You're not obsessed with it, but it's there. Sometimes you try to find ways to get it out of your mind for a while. But it's always there, somewhere. You do get preoccupied. I know what it's like. I know what it's like for John. I'm in his sport. If I had a friend who was in another business and I knew he had a big day coming up, I might call him. But it's different when you know the circumstances from your own experience. He's going to get a hundred other calls. He doesn't need to hear from me. So I'll give him his space.
He won't be in a bad mood, he'll just be in his nervous game mood. It's not a fear of failure that makes you nervous. John's beyond that. He has no fear of failure. But he has anxiety because of anticipation. He wants to get to his job. It's good anxiety, and I'm not sure all guys get that.
You know some guys have fear of failure or they think because it's the postseason, they have to do more. It's a natural feeling that you have to learn to deal with. It's like a guy coming up from Triple-A -- he thinks he has to throw harder or make his breaking ball sharper. That's when you get in trouble. That's why you hear the veterans tell the kids, "Just do whatever you did to get yourself here."
If John has any concerns, they might be about his health. I'm not sure how he feels. We haven't spoken for a few weeks. But I'm pretty sure if he was feeling good, he would have started the first game. You want your horse to go as many times as possible.
It would have been a little easier for him -- but not much -- if the Braves won the first game. But if he wins, then it's back to normal. They did lose, but they did some good things. Andruw Jones got on track, and so did Chipper Jones. That can be real important. No matter who you are and how good you've been, you have to get over the hump.
And Tim Hudson pitched deep enough into the game that the Braves didn't burn their bullpen too much. Those are important developments that get lost in who won, because they can affect Games 2 and 3. The Braves would rather have won the first game, but the way to look at it is that it's just one game.
You have to deceive yourself a little -- more than you do in the regular season or in a seven-game series -- because you really can't afford to get down in a short series. You find ways to keep yourself upbeat. You have to stay positive and understand that crazy things happen in the postseason.
Of course, the best way to get positive and stay that way is to win.
Tom Glavine's analysis appears as told to Marty Noble, a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.