PITTSBURGH -- John Smoltz, the Atlanta Braves' scheduled starter in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series tonight, said he is feeling like a relief pitcher.
"It's like a guy sitting out in the bullpen, then warming up to prepare to come in and get out of a big jam," said Smoltz. "That's the same feeling I'm getting. It's a situation I look forward to."
The Braves had to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates last night to make Smoltz's start necessary, and they did so in another chilling, 1-0 game, the third of the series decided by that score.
One thing Smoltz isn't concerned about is the weather.
"[Steve] Avery and myself are both from Michigan," he said. "The colder the better for us. We've been through this before."
Smoltz won Game 3 in Atlanta, 10-3, in the most explosive display of the series by either team. The Braves had 11 hits, seven of them for extra bases, including home runs by Ron Gant, Greg Olson and Sid Bream.
Pittsburgh will counter with left-hander John Smiley, who was pounded for five runs in two innings of the same game.
TH "It'll be Smiley," said manager Jim Leyland. "If I can't start a 20-
game winner, I've got a problem."
A bum rap for fans?
Pirates shortstop Jay Bell, mindful of the energy in the stands at Atlanta, said the Pittsburgh fans may be overlooked.
"People are making such a big deal about the electricity in Atlanta because of the tomahawk chop and that chant," said Bell. "But I don't think the fans there have come close to the electricity our fans put out in the first two games in Pittsburgh. They were great."
Pirates manager Jim Leyland said the fans at both sites have been exactly what they're meant to be -- enthusiastic and supportive.
"And I don't think the crowds have had any effect on the teams," said Leyland.
Missing the point
In two straight series, Barry Bonds, perhaps the best player in the National League, has been a bust. But he said everyone is missing the point.
"Everybody's looking for me to do something great, to be a hero," said Bonds, 6-for-41 with one RBI against Cincinnati and Atlanta in postseason play.
"That's tough. Baseball teams can't depend on one person. It's a 25-man team. If you're waiting for me to be a super-hero, you're missing the [team] aspect of baseball."
The Pirates appear to match up better than the Braves with the Minnesota Twins.
Three Atlanta left-handed starters have kept the Pirates' leading lineup off the field, confining first baseman Orlando Merced and catcher Mike LaValliere to the bench in favor of Gary Redus and Don Slaught, respectively.
Merced, who homered in his first at-bat off John Smoltz, and LaValliere, who drove in the winning run in Game 4, are considered superior offensively.
Minnesota's three right-handed starters, Jack Morris, Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson, should also help Andy Van Slyke, who batted .307 with 13 homers against right-handers.
The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Joe Garagiola, co-host of NBC-TV's "Today" show, former major-league catcher and recipient of the Ford Frick Award for his contributions to baseball. . . . Before last night's game, Jay Bell had already set a Pirates NL playoff record with 10 hits. The previous high was 8 by Dave Cash in 1971. Bell went hitless in 4 at-bats. He is 3 short of the series record of 13 by Will Clark of San Francisco in 1989. . . . Jeff Treadway made his first appearance of the series last night at second base for the Braves. He has been bothered by a hand injury that made it tough to grip the bat. But he was a .381 hitter on the road this season. . . . The 1-run game tied the record for a series (4). The Pirates and Reds played 4 last year, and the Mets and Astros played 4 in 1986. . . . Also tied was the NL playoff record for shutouts (3), set in 1987 by the Cardinals and Giants.