Smoltz superb in rematch with Clemens
ATLANTA (Ticker) --
surely will remember this encounter with
Smoltz pitched seven outstanding innings and rookie
hit a three-run homer off Clemens as the
posted a 7-1 victory against the
to even their National League Division Series at one-game apiece.
In a pregame news conference Wednesday, Smoltz recounted the last postseason matchup between the two future Hall of Famers, in which Clemens pitched brilliantly for the
New York Yankees
in a 4-1 victory in Game Four of the 1999 World Series.
When asked about that game, Clemens acknowledged that he could not recall much from the matchup - or even the year.
"I don't remember a great deal about it," Clemens said. "I haven't reviewed the tapes or seen any highlights of late. ... I mean, I'm 43. I can use that as an excuse, can't I?"
In Thursday's rematch, it was all Smoltz, who was making his first postseason start since that 1999 matchup.
"Honestly, I wasn't joking," Clemens said after the game." I didn't remember it. I thought it was Game Two but it must have been Game Four because it was a ring game.
The 38-year-old righthander became a closer in the interim but always yearned to return to the rotation just for this purpose.
This is what's in my gut," Smoltz said. "I love this time of year. The way it worked out, Game Two was a big game.
"The first inning was the biggest. I've waited a long time to start a playoff game of this magnitude," Smoltz said. "I was worried my pitches were going to be sharp, so getting three runs against Roger was huge."
Smoltz allowed a run and seven hits with a walk and five strikeouts to improve to 4-0 in the playoffs against Houston and 10-1 this season after a Braves loss. He threw first-pitch strikes to 25-of-28 batters and departed after throwing 67 of 93 pitches for strikes.
Smoltz (1-0) continued to add to his impressive resume, improving to 15-4 in the postseason, including 7-0 in NLDS games. The 1996 Cy Young Award winner broke a tie with Game One winner
for the most postseason wins.
"He pitched a great ballgame," Atlanta manager
said. "He managed to get out of the first inning and I thought he cruised pretty much. He was done after the seventh. He threw 42 pitches in the first two innings, but he got caught up in his pitch count. He could have gone eight."
After Houston scored in the first inning on an RBI single by
, Smoltz took total control. He retired 11 of 12 until a two-out double in the seventh by pinch hitter
"We had him on the ropes early," Houston manager
said. "As was the case, we couldn't get the big hit early and maybe made it more difficult on him. And we could have made it harder for him in a few innings later. It was vintage Smoltz. I've seen him better but he was pretty good tonight."
A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens was not the same pitcher who blanked the Braves for seven innings in April and allowed just five earned runs in his first 13 road starts.
The righthander surrendered a three-run homer on the first postseason swing by the 21-year-old McCann, then yielded a two-run double down the left field line to
one frame later.
"I was trying to pitch mistake-free, as stingy as possible with Smoltzie out there," Clemens said. "That home run killed us. I can't afford to make that mistake. It was a very hittable pitch, especially with the pitcher on deck, and he took advantage of hit.
McCann, who was an infant when Clemens made his major league debut, became the first Brave to homer in his first postseason at-bat.
"It's unbelievable. I got a fastball up and luckily I hit it, I guess," McCann said. I was going up there hacking, knowing that (Clemens) would probably throw everything at John next. I tried to get a pitch out over the plate.
"It won't sink in for a while. He's one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. It was neat. Two of the best pitchers going head-to-head. I was lucky to help us out."
Clemens yielded five runs and six hits in five innings with three walks and two strikeouts. It was the most playoff runs the righthander had allowed since he yielded six in a 2000 ALDS game against Oakland while with the Yankees.
It could have been the last appearance for the 43-year-old Clemens, who dropped to 10-8 in the postseason. Although he led the major leagues with a 1.87 ERA this season, he has seriously talked retirement after each of the last two seasons.
"It's the farthest thing from my mind right now," Clemens said. "I'm focused on helping us win, and knowing this bunch, we'll make it as hard as possible. One day I'll look back on all that."
Atlanta got RBI singles in the seventh from
to push the advantage to 7-1.
closed out the Astros by pitching a scoreless inning apiece.
The series resumes in Houston on Saturday. Twenty-game winner
takes the ball for the Astros and will be opposed by
, making his first career postseason start.
"It's not going to get any easier," said Braves third baseman
, who made two outstanding plays to help out Smoltz. "We're going into a hostile environment and facing a 20-game winner."