Originally created 04/23/98

Smoltz impressive in victory



ATLANTA -- It was another step in the right direction, taken at 90 miles per hour.

From the sound of John Smoltz's fastball Wednesday night, his recovery from elbow surgery is proceeding rapidly. The noise of his pitches thumping into catcher Javy Lopez's glove certainly convinced the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Welcoming the National League's newest team to Turner Field, Smoltz offered another impressive performance and Andruw Jones found himself at the epicenter of controversy as the Atlanta Braves opened a five-game homestand with a 5-2 victory before a crowd of 30,952, their seventh win in eight games.

"I'm getting there," Smoltz said. "Tonight wasn't anywhere near the stuff or the location I had against Pittsburgh, but I battled and the defense was outstanding."

Smoltz worked into the sixth and only an umpire's blown call prevented him from departing with a shutout. He left with two outs, charged with five hits and one run, a pair of walks and four strikeouts.

It was Jones' catch against the center field wall in the sixth that brought a cascade of catcalls raining down on rookie second base umpire Paul Schrieber's head. Andy Fox sent a drive to the wall and Jones, stumbling as he backed against the padding, gloved the ball as he was falling.

However, Schrieber didn't see it that way, ruling the ball had hit the wall, then fallen into Jones' glove. His call allowed Fox a triple and Jay Bell delivered a sacrifice fly to trim the lead to 3-1.

"I guess he had a bad angle because he made the wrong call," Jones said. "Everybody saw the replay, it was in my glove. I didn't like the call because I made a good catch and it cost John (Smoltz) a run."

Jones was also the feature attraction in the bottom of the inning when Diamondbacks starter Andy Benes (2-2) plunked him with a pitch in retaliation for Smoltz hitting Matt Williams. Smoltz's pitch was unintentional, but Benes' fastball was clearly intended for Jones' ribs.

"I'm disappointed in Andy," Smoltz said. "I don't know what he was thinking. It's stupid. I don't know why he would think that I'm trying to drill somebody. There's nothing to protect

there. I had six or seven pitches tonight I didn't even come close to location with. I don't want to speak on his behalf, but it didn't look very good."

Responded Benes, "All I can say about that is we're not here to make friends. I pitched inside starting in the first inning and through the seventh inning. I did walk five guys, so I wasn't real sharp."

Lopez and Michael Tucker, a pair of hitters who had combined for four home runs and 14 RBI in 95 at-bats, built a 3-0 lead for Smoltz in four innings. In the second, Lopez singled and Tucker followed with his second home run, then Lopez drilled his fourth homer in the fourth inning.

The two pitches were Benes' only mistakes until the seventh when Walt Weiss led with a single and Keith Lockhart delivered an RBI double. That was enough production for Smoltz and the bullpen.

There were some familiar faces in Arizona's lineup (Bell, Williams, Devon White), but for the most part Smoltz was facing hitters he'd never seen before.

Apparently the scouting reports discussed during an afternoon meeting were accurate because even without his best stuff, Smoltz (2-0) survived. He got some help from Weiss, who started a double play on Travis Lee's bases-loaded grounder in the third, then coaxed another inningending double play grounder from White in the fifth.

"Smoltz, even without his best stuff, is going to keep you in the game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We kind of squeaked through tonight."

The bullpen did some outstanding work, Alan Embree getting the final out in the sixth, then Mike Cather dominated the six hitters he faced, striking out three and not allowing the ball to escape the infield. Only Lee's leadoff homer in the ninth against Mark Wohlers prevented a perfect evening for the relief corps.

By that time Smoltz had finished icing his elbow and was displaying a satisfied smile.