Smoltz ties up Astros, series

In first playoff start since '99, Brave bests Clemens

McCann: 3-run HR

Braves 7, Astros 1

October 07, 2005|By EVAN GRANT | EVAN GRANT,THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Atlanta -- So, the greatest postseason pitching matchup of all time didn't come to fruition.

It wasn't John Smoltz's fault. He did his part.

Making his first postseason start in the new millennium, the lone remaining player from Atlanta's first of 14 consecutive division championship teams pitched his typical playoff gem last night in a 7-1 win over Houston in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. It was Roger Clemens who couldn't keep the pace.

The Braves tied the best-of-five series at a game apiece.

Smoltz overcame a shaky first inning and then pitched six more crisp ones to earn his 15th postseason win. He took back the outright lead for postseason victories; Houston's Andy Pettitte had tied him the night before.

Who could blame Smoltz for being a little nervous in the first?

It was the first time he'd pitched the first inning of a playoff game since Game 4 of the 1999 World Series when he squared off against Clemens. Clemens and the New York Yankees won that matchup. Then Smoltz got hurt, missed a season and took a four-year detour as a closer.

"There's a thousand emotions going through my head right now," Smoltz said after improving his postseason record to 15-4. "It's a great feeling. I'm going to sleep a long time tonight."

The day before, when he spoke of preparing to return to the mound in the playoffs as a starter, he did so with passion dripping off every word.

"It's the one thing that's been a yearning in my heart," Smoltz said. "I can't underscore how much mentally you have to be prepared to pitch at this time of year. Physically, we're all less than 100 percent, but I absolutely want the ball."

It all was quite sincere, but questions about Smoltz's sore shoulder, the Astros' utter dominance in a 10-5 win in Game 1 and Clemens' presence made it seem like a huge undertaking.

Smoltz complicated matters by getting into trouble in the first when he threw an abundance of sliders in a 25-pitch inning. By the time it was done, he already trailed 1-0.

Smoltz, however, allowed just four more hits over the next six innings.

Clemens was the exact opposite. He had a quick and painless first, then couldn't put the Braves away. Atlanta scored all seven of its runs - five of them off Clemens - with two outs.

The first three of those runs came on a homer in the first postseason at-bat by rookie catcher Brian McCann in the second inning.

At 21, McCann was an unlikely player to hit it. He was born less than three months before Clemens made his major league debut for Boston in 1984, and started the season with Double-A Mississippi.

"The home run killed us," Clemens said. "A fastball back over the zone. A hittable pitch."

Clemens, 43, and Smoltz, 38, formed the oldest pitching matchup in postseason history.

Evan Grant writes for The Dallas Morning News. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

THE PLAYOFFS YESTERDAY

Cardinals 6, Padres 2 Mark Mulder pitched 6 2/3 strong innings as St. Louis took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five NL Division Series. PG 8F

Braves 7, Astros 1 John Smoltz out-dueled Roger Clemens and Atlanta banged out 11 hits to even the series 1-1.

Today

White Sox@Red Sox, 4:09 p.m., ESPN2; Garcia (14-8, 3.87) vs. Wakefield (16-12, 4.15)

Angels at Yankees, 8:19 p.m., ESPN; Byrd (12-11, 3.74) vs. R. Johnson (17-8, 3.79)

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