Smoltz flashes true grit 'Worst' game is good enough to revive Braves

October 23, 1992|By Jeff Bradley | Jeff Bradley,New York Daily News

TORONTO It was not the prettiest effort of John Smoltz's career, six plus-innings, five hits, four walks and 114 grueling pitches.

When Bobby Cox limped to the mound in the seventh inning to tell Smoltz he had done enough, the pitcher looked as if he might not have the strength to make it to the dugout. His scruffy face was drawn and his complexion pale. Yet Smoltz held his head high as he made his way off the field, the only cheers coming from his teammates.

"He said it was the worst game he's thrown in the postseason, said his catcher, Damon Berryhill. "But I think, when you look at it, it might have been the best."

No, it had not been pretty nor dominant, but Smoltz had done his job, keeping the baseball in the park and his team's lead intact. And finally, after three sterling World Series starts over the last two years that had led to nothing but three tough no-decisions, Smoltz had his first Fall Classic victory. He had vanquished his boyhood idol Jack Morris, the man he had dueled a year ago in one of the great seventh games in World Series history.

Better yet, he had extended his team's postseason life and earned them a trip home, seemingly with newfound hope.

"This is all we could ask for tonight," Smoltz said. "All we wanted was the chance to keep playing. We did not want our season to end.

"It's really special. I pitched so much better in my other four, though. In this one I just ran out of gas."

Smoltz had come out of the chute in the first inning with hifastball jumping. He punched out two in the first inning, then one in the second. But it must have been adrenaline. Into the third and fourth, the abundance of three-ball counts starting to take their toll, Smoltz appeared to be a man in trouble.

"He did not have his best command," Berryhill said. "Not of his fastball or his slider. But he had the heart to make it through those middle innings. He made some big pitches when he had to."

Smoltz stranded a couple of runners in the fourth, reaching back for a strikeout of Devon White to end the inning.

And in the fifth, when Lonnie Smith gave him, in one swing of the bat, as many runs as the Braves had scored in any of the first four games, Smoltz found enough strength to survive. In the fifth and sixth, he scattered Toronto flyballs to all the farthest reaches SkyDome's outfield. He was, for a change, pitching with a lead.

"We felt he was the guy who could get us home," Berryhill said. "He deserved those runs. And he knew how to use them. He had the heart to get us through this one."

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