MIAMI - While John Smoltz might be having the best season of any pitcher in baseball, Kevin Brown might be the game's best pitcher.
Sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't.
Smoltz pitches for a division winner and receives five runs a game. Brown toils for a second-division club and has received the worst support in the major leagues.
Smoltz will win the Cy Young award. Brown will finish second.
That's baseball's way.
Brown won't change the Atlanta Braves' minds about who deserves the Cy Young, but he provided a strong argument to the rest of the league Wednesday night. Working seven shutout innings, he lowered his major league-leading earned run average to 1.89 as the Florida Marlins took a 3-0 victory over the Braves before a crowd of 20,178 at Pro Player Stadium.
"Brown is probably the best pitcher we've faced this year," Braves first baseman Fred McGriff said.
Brown (17-11), who has received 11 runs in his 11 losses, was the beneficiary of four double plays and stranded three runners in scoring position. He gave up five hits, didn't walk anyone and struck out two.
"If we had supported him while I was there, he'd probably be leading the league in wins too," Braves third baseman Terry Pendleton said.
The loss went to Tom Glavine (15-10), who can give Brown a run for his money in the worst-support department. The left-hander has taken a no-decision or a loss in 13 games this season in which he's given up three earned runs or less.
Glavine used the game as a tuneup for next week's playoffs. He set down the first 10 hittershe faced, yielded an RBI double to Jeff Conine in the fourth, and then departed the next inning having thrown 58 pitches.
In his five innings, he gave up a pair of hits and one run, didn't issue a walk and struck out two. The Braves have been shutout eight times this season, three with Glavine on the mound.
"You want to win, but your main focus is to go out and stay sharp and you're not so concerned with the outcome," Glavine said. "It's a weird approach. It really forces you to go out and concentrate."
Glavine focused on sharpening his breaking pitches and used more curves and sliders than normal. He came away satisfied he'd accomplished his mission.
"If a tuneup is what I'm trying to get out of the last two starts, that (performance) is exactly what I'm looking for," he said. "I feel real good about what I did."
While the rest of the National League has scored less than two runs per game against Brown, the Braves had beat up on him this season. He was 0-2 with a 5.27 ERA in two starts against them, most of the damage coming in a 5-2 loss April 16.
The right-hander was at his best this time around, throwing a nasty sinker that the Braves continually beat into the ground. He escaped three trouble spots by forcing double-play grounders, two of them from Pendleton.
"I don't know if Brown as been as dominant as (Greg) Maddux the last two years, but he's close," Glavine said.
The Braves' best scoring opportunity came in the sixth when Mike Mordecai led with a double and pinch hitter Jeff Blauser was hit by a pitch. Marquis Grissom bounced into a fielder's choice, putting runners on the corners with one out, and Pendleton followed with a ground ball for two.
"He even gets ground balls when he throws the ball high," Braves manager Bobby Cox marveled.
In any other season, Brown is the league's Cy Young winner. But not this year, the year of Smoltz.
"I won't say there won't be any disappointment," Brown said. "It would have been something nice to have, but there's not a lot of expectations. I won't be crushed."
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