After a grueling seventh inning, including an at bat by Nationals' outfielder Austin Kearns that just about ruined him, Braves' starter John Smoltz walked into the dugout and told Braves' Manager Bobby Cox something very definite.
"As soon as I give up a hit, I'm done" Smoltz told his skipper.
And so when Ronnie Belliard got a base hit in the first at bat of the eighth inning to break up Smoltz's no-hitter, it didn't take Cox two seconds to pop out of the dugout to make the signal to the bullpen.
Smoltz admitted after the game that he was ‘gassed.' He had not felt good for most of the day, battling allergies. Smoltz knew before he went out for the eighth inning that if he was going to get his first no-no, it would almost take a miracle.
"I came in after the seventh and told somebody, ‘I'm going to have to get lucky. I've got to get some balls hit right at people.'"
Yeah Smoltz was not avoiding his teammates in the dugout, even though most of the people in Turner Field were trying not to even breathe the notion of what might historically was happening in front of them. Smoltz was just more concerned with winning a game his team really needed.
"It was a big game and I'm not disappointed at all that it happened that way," Smoltz said. "I talked to anybody and everybody. I'm not concerned about no-hitters, especially at this point in my career. But I certainly enjoyed the fans and enjoyed the moment of the opportunity to get it."
"This was actually a game where I really felt my pitches were working. I just didn't have enough in the reserve to make and execute pitches in the game that you have to execute."
With the victory, Smoltz improved to 13-7 on the season. It was his first win in two weeks and he believes he still has some gas left in the tank for the rest of the year.
"This is really the way I've felt all year," Smoltz explained. "I can't explain why things haven't worked out better, but at this point – I think I've got four starts left and I'm basically approaching them like this start and just go as far as I can go."
For the Braves, the win was important. Both the Cubs and Brewers lost, so the Braves moved ahead of two more teams in the wildcard hunt. And the Phillies lost to the Marlins, so the Braves are now a game and a half behind their closest team in the National League East.
The fans would have loved to see Smoltz throw a no-hitter, and even he admitted that "it had a chance to be a magical night." But at this point, with only 21 games left to go, a win is a win for a team fighting to stay alive in the pennant race.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smoltz comes close to a no-hitter
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