ATLANTA -- Tell John Smoltz in March that he would win 10 games this season and he would have accepted it as greedily as a old prospector eying a gold nugget.
Tell him he would take his 10th win in the first week of August and he would have fallen on his knees and offered the baseball gods his World Series ring.
The pitcher who has his elbow plumbed as frequently as NBC finds a hit comedy feels as good as he did in 1996 and we all remember what he did that season.
Facing a team he has victimized repeatedly over the past three years, Smoltz gave Atlanta a quintet of 10-game winners for the first time since 1955 and Atlanta's bullpen continued its second-half dominance Tuesday night as the Braves took a 4-2 victory over the Reds before a crowd of 43,012 fans at Turner Field.
"I really didn't think I'd be in a position to do that this year," said Smoltz, who also contributed a career-high three hits. "Kevin Millwood has done a great job and he's the reason why we have this record."
The '55 Milwaukee staff of Warren Spahn (17), Lew Burdette (13), Bob Buhl (13), Gene Conley (11) and Ray Crone (10) also had five 10-game winners.
"As good a pitching as we've had, we've never had five 10-game winners," manager Bobby Cox said. "It shows you how hard it is to do that."
With Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine with 14 wins apiece, Millwood with 12 and Denny Neagle with 11, the Braves are aiming to become the club's winningest rotation since the team resided in Boston.
"You've got to be good," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said, "and you've got to take your turn. I thought the odds were good if the guys could go to the post when it was their turn."
Following Smoltz's departure, the 1-2 punch of Rudy Seanez and Kerry Ligtenberg worked the last two innings and Ligtenberg came away with his 11 straight save, his 17th overall.
The Braves took a 1-0 lead against Reds starter Steve Parris on Andres Galarraga's RBI double in the first inning, then scored again in the second. Javy Lopez drew a walk, Michael Tucker singled and Andruw Jones' fielder's choice sent Lopez home for a 2-0 lead.
After the lead vanished on Chris Stynes' two-run double in the fifth, Jones greeted reliever Scott Sullivan (3-5) with his 17th homer in the seventh and pinch hitter Tony Graffanino's RBI grounder restored the two-run advantage.
"I faced (Jones) in Cincinnati and I threw a fastball away and he hit it out," Sullivan said. "This time I threw a fastball in and he hit it out. Next time I'm trying a knuckleball."
Jones has two hits in six career at-bats against Sullivan and both have been home runs this season, six days apart.
"I'm just trying to get on base and get something going," Jones said. "I was thinking about bunting. Those submarine guys, it's hard to hit them."
Smoltz, who was ejected from last Wednesday's start at Cinergy Field, stayed around long enough to boost his record to 9-0 against the Reds since 1995. He pitched seven innings, allowing seven hits and both runs, and upped his record to 10-2.
Smoltz, whose last loss was on June 26, rolled through four innings, allowing only Willie Greene's scratch single in the second. But in the fifth he didn't locate his fastball well and the Reds tacked four hits together and scored a pair of runs to tie the game.
The most damaging blow was Stynes' double, sending Greene and Aaron Boone across the plate, but Stynes committed a baserunning blunder by attempting to stretch it into a triple and was thrown out.
"Tonight was a night when my hitting was better than my pitching," Smoltz said. "It felt like I hadn't been out there in 12 days. I was rusty and I was up a lot tonight. The Reds hit some balls hard, but I was able to stay away from big innings."
So it goes for a Braves' staff that has bigger things than musty records in its sight.
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