This season his luck may have turned for the better, but Smoltz has raised his game, too. He is averaging 2.14 walks per nine innings, cutting his previous career rate by more than one third. Says Maddux, "He used to go from 0 and 2 to 3 and 2 with the best of them. Now he's not. That's a huge difference."
Also, Smoltz's forkball never has been better. He can throw it as a power pitch, with a nasty downward bite, or, with less pace, as a changeup to lefthanders. The pitch best explains why lefthanders, who batted .260 against him before this season, are hitting only .150 against him this year.
"As good as his fastball is," says Cubs third baseman Dave Magadan, "if you were 2 and 0 on him, you knew it was coming and could gear up for it. Now he throws that change down and away so well that it's almost like he misses with his fastball on purpose just to set you up for it on 2 and 0."
Says Smoltz, "I'm thinking about nothing but pitching out there on the mound now. It's fun."
He has put away the game ball from his 100th victory for safekeeping. The ones from his division-clinching and pennant-winning victories in 1991 are gone—"used or given away to charity," he says—like other balls he once set aside. But this one, he promises, is a keeper. "It's the work of a whole career, not just one game," he says. "I watched Maddux get his [in 1993] and Glavine get his [in '94]. It's been a tough grind for me. I got it a little bit slower than I would have liked."
Then he thought about the expectations, but this time they were of his own making. He looked at the baseball and was entirely comfortable saying, "I'd like to get one more of these."