Facebook Twitter

Braves duo impresses

SHARE Braves duo impresses

ATLANTA — John Smoltz already looks like a closer.

"He was outstanding. He looked a little like Goose with that mustache," Greg Maddux said in comparing Smoltz to Rich Gossage, a three-time AL saves leader. "Who knows how it will shake out? All we know is he was awesome today."

Maddux won his ninth consecutive decision, and Smoltz made the first regular-season relief appearance of his career as the Atlanta Braves beat the Montreal Expos 8-2 Sunday.

Maddux (13-5) allowed two runs and nine hits in eight innings, struck out seven and extended his streak of innings without a walk to 51.

He is 9-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his last 10 starts, lowering his to 2.43, second in the NL behind teammate John Burkett (2.38).

"Having all those runs to work with — they make pitching a lot easier," Maddux said. "It's nice to be able to relax."

Smoltz, activated before the game from the disabled list, pitched a perfect ninth, retiring Geoff Blum and Michael Barrett on flyouts before striking out Brad Wilkerson. He made only nine pitches, hitting 97 mph.

After making the first 361 regular-season appearances of his career as a starter, the 34-year-old right-hander has been moved to the bullpen.

"I needed to get that out of the way," Smoltz said. "I really did. It was unbelievable. The support from the fans was indescribable."

Smoltz, who missed all of last season following reconstructive elbow surgery, returned May 17 and was 2-2 with a 5.76 ERA in five starts this season.

He went back on the DL on June 10 because of a sore elbow and made two rehabilitation appearances in relief for Double-A Greenville.

"We'll see how it feels tomorrow," Smoltz said. "There was no way I couldn't throw hard. I couldn't be nice and easy with all that adrenaline pumping."

He said he would welcome a chance to be the Braves' closer, but has no intention of forcing the issue.

"I look at today as a first step," Smoltz said. "This was one inning and just one part of the process for me. I'm just trying to get ready for the end of the year."

Steve Karsay, who has three saves in four chances, has been the Braves' closer since he was acquired in the June 22 trade that sent John Rocker to Cleveland.

"Only time will tell," Karsay said. "We have a good collection of guys here. We match up pretty well against a lot of teams. I support however we can use John to help our team win."

Smoltz's appearance was his first in relief against major league hitters since Game 6 of the 1999 NL championship series, when he gave up a tying two-run homer to the Mets' Mike Piazza.

Brian Jordan hit a three-run homer for the Braves, who have won five of six and moved 14 games over .500 for the first time this year. Atlanta remained two games ahead of Philadelphia, a 3-2 winner over New York, in the NL East.

Jordan, batting cleanup in a reshuffled lineup, gave the Braves a 3-1 lead in the first against Troy Mattes (3-2) with his 14th homer.

"I feel like things are starting to come together," Jordan said. "It's somebody every night. That's the thing about being a championship team. You can't rely just on one or two guys."

Montreal manager Jeff Torborg was very impressed with Maddux.

"He's one of the special ones that ever pitched in this game," he said.