ATLANTA (Ticker) -- As the
head for another postseason,
may be headed for trouble.
The slumping Smoltz was roughed up for five runs in the ninth inning as the Braves blew a two-run lead and suffered an 11-8 loss to the
Atlanta squandered a chance to clinch a tie for its unprecedented 13th consecutive division title. Its magic number for wrapping up the National League East Division is at two.
However, another date in October could be a short one if Smoltz does not get back on track. On Tuesday, he notched a 40th save for the third straight season, which glossed over the fact that he allowed a run and continued a disturbing trend.
This outing was alarming as Smoltz came on to protect an 8-6 lead and had nothing. He gave up singles to
, following each with wild pitches as the Reds closed to 8-7.
Smoltz (0-1) struck out
before D'Angelo Jimenez doubled home the tying run. Pinch hitter
was walked intentionally before
- a .230 hitter - launched a three-run homer that sent Smoltz to the showers with his fifth blown save and first loss since August 10, 2003 at St. Louis.
"If there's a perfect time for this to happen, I know it's now." Smoltz said. "It's more of a shock. Rarely do you see a five-spot in the ninth at Turner Field."
"He threw me a splitter down and in and I put good wood on it," Valentin said. "I knew I hit the ball good."
Smoltz's ERA climbed from 2.34 to 2.91. In his last 9 2/3 innings, he has allowed 20 hits.
"Nothing is wrong with him. It's just location," said Braves manager
, who still needs five wins for 2,000 in his career. "He just got some pitches down the middle."
"You don't handle him very often," Reds manager Dave Miley said. "You have to enjoy it when you do."
The rally made a winner of
(2-5), who got the final out of the eighth.
, the sixth Reds' pitcher, worked the ninth for his second save.
Valentin had four of Cincinnati's season-high 17 hits. Lopez had three and five other Reds stroked two apiece.
It was a see-saw affair, with the Braves jumping out early, the Reds storming back and the Braves erasing a 6-2 deficit going into the sixth.
After Atlanta loading the bases,
drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and
drove in two more with a two-out bases-clearing double, making it 6-5.
smashed a three-run homer off
in the seventh to give the Braves an 8-6 lead. But the lead was short-lived.
"It's a nice rally that I ruined," Smoltz said.
"I have to believe once it's go time, we'll see a different Smoltz than we've seen for the past couple of outings," Jones said. "It happens. Pitchers go through it like hitters do. You don't want to see it at the end of the season going into the playoffs, but he's a vet, he's been through it before.
The Braves scored two in the first against
on a homer by
and an error. The Reds tied it with a pair in the second, took the lead on Dunn's RBI single in the third and scored three times in the fourth.
After Valentin's one-out single, Anderson Machado blooped a bunt that pitcher
short-hopped, then threw past first baseman
into right field. LaRoche ran it down, then skipped a throw past Estrada at the plate as both Valentin and Machado scored.
added an RBI single to make it 6-2.