Originally created 08/30/97

Smoltz stifles Boston

BOSTON - Four weeks to go before the playoffs start and John Smoltz can smell the postseason the way a race horse can sense the finish line.

If the first five months of the season was a warmup lap, he's heading down the stretch at full gallop.

In a different league, wearing an old-time uniform Friday night, Smoltz continued his second-half dominance.

Playing at sold-out Fenway Park for the first time, the right-hander set a franchise strikeout record and improved to 4-1 this month as the Atlanta Braves started the third round of interleague play with a 9-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in front of 32,577 fans.

"(A game like this) can kind of get your groove going," center fielder Kenny Lofton said. "That's something we need right now. It's a case of us coming out of the little phase we were in."

Wearing replica uniforms of the 1912 Boston Braves, the modern-day Braves amassed 16 hits against the American League's fourth-worst pitching staff, their most since collecting 19 hits against the Expos July 3.

Watching his old team dominate his new team, former Braves pitcher Steve Avery shook his head afterward and said, "It doesn't look like much has changed."

Most of the damage was done by former American Leaguers. Greg Colbrunn had two hits, including his first home run as a Brave and drove in three runs, while Fred McGriff had three hits, including a homer, Keith Lockhart had three hits and scored a pair of runs and Lofton had a single and a double.

"It brought back a lot of memories from my Toronto Blue Jays days," McGriff said. "It's a great hitter's ballpark."

Smoltz didn't need all the offense. Now 2-0 this season while wearing an old-fashioned uniform, he allowed four hits, walked one and struck out nine in seven innings. He has been on a roll since July 20, giving up just 16 earned runs in nine starts to improve his record from 8-9 to 13-10 and lower his earned run average from 3.31 to 2.89.

Smoltz, a 9-1 winner over the Phillies June 28 while wearing a 1938 Atlanta Black Crackers uniform, was in trouble just once against the Red Sox, who donned replica uniforms of the 1908 team.

"I'm going to politic for those old-timers uniforms because I haven't given up a run in them and we've scored 18 runs in them," Smoltz said. "That's what this team is capable of doing. You never know which games will get you hot."

Boston rookie shortstop Nomar Garciaparra's infield hit in the third inning accomplished two things. First, it loaded the bases with one out and it boosted his hitting streak to 30 games, tying this year's major league-high and tying the second-longest streak in Red Sox history.

Only one Red Sox player has ever had a longer hitting streak - Dom DiMaggio's 34 games in 1947 - and Garciaparra is closing in on Benito Santiago's major league rookie record of 34 games (1987).

Lofton saved the game with a sliding catch of Jeff Frye's sinking line drive. Then Smoltz made Mo Vaughn his 200th strikeout victim to end the rally and become the first pitcher in Braves franchise history to have four seasons of 200 or more strikeouts.

It was the only serious trouble Smoltz encountered. Vaughn beat the "Ted Williams" shift in the sixth, doubling into the left field corner with two outs, but Smoltz forced a grounder from Reggie Jefferson to keep his shutout intact.

"(Lofton's play) changed the game," manager Bobby Cox said. "If that ball falls in, it's a different game."

While other hitters took aim at left field's fabled "Green Monster", McGriff gave the Braves a quick 1-0 lead in the second inning, launching a pitch from Red Sox starter Aaron Sele (12-11) into the right field grandstand for his 18th homer.

Said McGriff before the game, "It's a great ballpark for left-handed hitters. Right-handed hitters have trouble because they try to pull everything. Left-handers, you stay on the ball and go with it, you have a chance to have success."

A four-run sixth inning, highlighted by Colbrunn's two-out, two-run single, upped the Braves' lead to 5-0. Three more runs poured across the plate in the eighth, a rally that included Colbrunn's home run and Lockhart's third hit.

"We've had a few guys not hitting for a month or so," said Ryan Klesko, who had a pair of doubles. "All it takes is a couple of guys getting hits who need hits. Fred (McGriff) is swinging a little bit better and so am I."

A lineup that has produced a .230 batting average this month is finally showing signs of life.


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