Duel of friends a night to remember
Smoltz's 200th win comes in classic vs. longtime pal Glavine
ATLANTA -- Years from now, when John Smoltz and Tom Glavine are in the Hall of Fame, both will likely remember this balmy Georgia night.
Well, at least Smoltz certainly will, and if Glavine forgets, count on Smoltz to give his longtime friend a history refresher about that May night at Turner Field when he beat Glavine for career victory No. 200.
"I don't know if it's more memorable [than usual], I just know I'll remember it," Smoltz said after his 2-1 victory over Glavine and the Mets on Thursday night. "I know that might be an oxymoron, but I don't remember a lot of starts.
"When [Hideo] Nomo first came into the game, I remember I pitched against him. I remember pitching against Fernando Valenzuela. I've already done it with [Greg] Maddux, but it was special with Glavine the first time because it was such a long history together. All it is is just another game I will remember because of our history together."
Sometimes when friends compete, the competition can be more intense than when two strangers are involved, and this historic head-to-head between Atlanta's Smoltz, who came in with 199 career victories, and Glavine of the Mets, who needs five for 300 career victories, was more than just another rubber game between division contenders or bragging rights between two good buddies.
In a pitchers' duel between pitchers' pitchers, Smoltz bested Glavine to become the 109th pitcher in Major League history to reach 200 victories.
"The one thing that's special is the fact that I'm battling against one of the best," Smoltz said. "You just can't help but think about that when you're out there, whether it's Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux -- doesn't matter. When you're [facing] an elite group of people, you know it's going to be a tough game to get up for those games. The season is so long, you don't have that many marquee matchups where you get a little extra juice in the belly. For [this one], I did. I downplayed it as long as I possibly could, but when game time came and it was time to pitch ..."
Glavine was also ready to pitch, but as Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said: "Tommy was tough. Smoltzie just pitched a little better."
Glavine agreed Smoltz pitched better. He planned to congratulate his friend later.
"I'm happy for him personally," Glavine said. "I'm not happy it came against us. He pitched a great game."
Sometimes, marquee matchups are unable to live up to the billing, but this was a game worthy of two of the best teams in baseball, and one many in the crowd of 36,660 won't quickly forget.
"I tried not to think about it in any way, shape or form, but it was a different game. You could see the buildup of what potentially could be a round number, 200, and fortunately, we got it," said Smoltz, who came back out on the field following the final out to acknowledge the crowd applause. "I don't come out for too many things, but I wanted to show my appreciation for what they've done and elevated the game for us and for me."
Both pitchers were very good, though we've seen them more dominating. Both were helped by outstanding defensive plays, like second baseman Kelly Johnson's diving catch that robbed New York's Ruben Gotay of an RBI single in the fourth, or Atlanta shortstop Edgar Renteria retiring Carlos Beltran and Paul LoDuca with superb fielding plays in the sixth.
This, however, wasn't a night for piling up strikeouts, not with these two offenses. This was a night for pitching, and the two 40-plus artists put on quite a clinic. They painted corners, changed speeds and seldom gave hitters anything near their swing zones. This was two masters working quickly and efficiently and making their pitches, whether it was from the windup or the stretch.
Smoltz (7-2) pitched seven shutout innings and gave up seven hits, all singles, and did not walk anyone. He struck out five and left for pinch-hitter Chris Woodward after having thrown 101 pitches, including 72 for strikes.
Glavine (5-2) gave up fewer hits (five) than Smoltz, but three of those went for extra bases, including a homer by Braves left fielder Matt Diaz. Glavine left the game for pinch-hitter David Newhan after the sixth, trailing 2-0 and having thrown 110 pitches.
Smoltz and Glavine, who were teammates in Atlanta from 1988-2002 and faced each other for the third time this season and fourth in their careers, were both gone by the seventh inning.
You are left to wonder how many opportunities to witness such excellent head-to-head pitching matchups remain.
|"With our friendship, we know we'll be friends long beyond baseball. There are a lot of things we'll have the opportunity to tell stories about. The matchups that we've had this year will certainly add to that."|
|-- Tom Glavine|
Most of the members of the 200-win club are getting long in the tooth. Roger Clemens, soon to rejoin the Yankees with 348 wins, will be 45 this summer. San Diego's Greg Maddux (336) is 41, while Randy Johnson of Arizona (282) is 43. Mike Mussina (241) of the Yankees is 38, San Diego's David Wells (232) is 44, Kenny Rogers of Detroit (207) is 42, Boston's Curt Schilling (211) is 40 and Philadelphia's Jamie Moyer (220) is 44. Pedro Martinez of the Mets (206) is 35, but is recovering from shoulder surgery.
Now that Smoltz, 40, has reached 200, the next likely new member of the 200-win club will probably be Andy Pettite of the Yankees, who has 189 victories.
So this was a matchup to savor, and Smoltz, Glavine and their respective teams made it sweet. The two bullpens kept things right where they were, which meant the hometown fans couldn't exhale until Braves closer Bob Wickman retired Jose Reyes with the tying run at third base for the final out of the game.
When Renteria squeezed Reyes' popup, Smoltz had his 200th -- a milestone even Smoltz wondered if he'd ever reach a few years ago, when injury interrupted his career. He returned as closer before moving back into the rotation.
"I was never going to let go of the fact that I could start [and] one of the big things that's a contributor to that is I believe in myself," Smoltz said. "You know what's odd is I know it happens across the game, but a lot of people have doubted me in so many different situations that I take a lot of pride and joy to know that I'm standing here with 200 wins. But that's it and I move on."
Smoltz could of course wind up facing Glavine, 41, again later this season, perhaps on a night when Glavine will be gunning for his 300th victory.
That could be another night these two old friends will reminisce about someday.
"With our friendship, we know we'll be friends long beyond baseball," Glavine said. "There are a lot of things we'll have the opportunity to tell stories about. The matchups that we've had this year will certainly add to that."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.