LOS ANGELES -- Looking forward to a six-month season and beyond, John Smoltz set modest goals in March. Twenty starts would be good, he decided. Pitching 125 innings would be nice. Ten wins is probably too much to hope for.
Smoltz and his repaired right elbow are still one start shy of 20 and he needs six more innings for 125. But the wins, well, he's already surpassed 10 and is eyeing 15.
Continuing a six-week stretch of perfection, Smoltz took a sixth straight win Saturday afternoon and the Braves made it eight in a row against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 5-3 victory that shouldn't have been as close as it turned out.
"There's a ton (of satisfaction)," Smoltz said. "Not that I ever prepare myself for a mediocre season, but I was prepared for whatever happened. I've been able to contribute, unexpectedly in a lot of people's eyes."
Smoltz's 11th win disappointed a crowd of 41,240 fans at Dodger Stadium who expected to see Chan Ho Park pick up his 11th victory. But the Korean right-hander gave up a three-run homer to Andres Galarraga in the first inning, and the Dodgers, who haven't beaten the Braves since July 20 last year, never recovered.
Goodness knows the Braves tried repeatedly to give this one away. They stranded 12 runners, eight in scoring position, and somehow managed to turn a walk and three consecutive singles in the seventh inning into no runs and two outs.
"I feel like we scored 103 runs and ended up with five," manager Bobby Cox said.
Working in humid conditions, Smoltz (11-2) went seven, yielded two earned runs and struck out eight. He started the eighth and allowed Eric Karros' single, then walked Bobby Bonilla, and Cox called in rookie left-hander John Rocker to face pinch-hitter Gary Sheffield.
Sheffield sent a hard grounder through Rocker's legs that should have ended up in center field. However, second baseman Tony Graffanino, remembering Sheffield's tendencies from last October's championship series against the Marlins, had shifted over several steps toward the middle, and he grabbed the grounder and started a double play.
"I wasn't worried about the hole between Andres (Galarraga) and me," Graffanino said. "I cheated up the middle because I remembered back in the playoffs he hit a rocket at me in the same spot. Just playing the percentages, I guess. I don't think I make that play normally."
Said Rocker, "I thought it was a hit up the middle, for sure. That's a nice surprise."
Galarraga's 38th homer was his second three-run shot in less than 24 hours and gave him a fourth consecutive 100-RBI season. No Braves first baseman has hit 35-plus homers and driven in 100 runs in the same season since Hank Aaron had 47 homers and 118 RBI in 1971.
"I was excited to get to 100 and try and defend my (RBI) title," Galarraga said. "I'm going to try and catch (league leader Sammy Sosa). At least make it difficult for him."
The Dodgers cut into the lead in the bottom of the inning, helped by Graffanino's error on Karros' double-play grounder. Shortstop Walt Weiss flipped the ball to Graffanino and he dropped it, allowing Bonilla to come to the plate and deliver a two-run single.
Los Angeles didn't score again until Smoltz left a curve hanging to Eric Young in the fifth and when the second baseman hit it into the left field pavilion he stomped around the mound, furious at himself.
Meanwhile, Park (10-7) was amassing 115 pitches and a career-high six walks in six innings. In the fourth he got two quick outs, then yielded successive singles to Graffanino, Smoltz and Weiss, the last one producing a 4-2 lead.
Another two-out mistake, this time a walk to Michael Tucker in the sixth, helped bring an end to Park's afternoon. Chipper Jones followed with a double and when right fielder Matt Luke's throw went to second, Tucker never stopped running and scored easily.
That was enough for Smoltz, whose last loss was on June 26, and a bullpen that's posted a 1.88 ERA on this trip. Rudy Seanez got the last out in the eighth, then Kerry Ligtenberg picked up his 20th save by working the ninth.
"I'm proud of where I am, but I've had a lot of help," Smoltz said. "It hasn't been easy. I've been grumpy and frustrated a lot. All I want is to pitch effectively and prepare for the playoffs."
He's halfway there.
Atlanta 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 -- 5 12 1
Los Angeles -- 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 -- 3 8 1
E -- Graffanino (7), EcYoung (11). LOB -- Atlanta 12, Los Angeles 8. 2B -- ChJones (22), Klesko (24). HR -- EcYoung (3) off Smoltz; Galarraga (38) off Park. RBI -- Weiss (22), ChJones (94), Galarraga 3 (100), EcYoung (28), Bonilla 2 (34). SB -- Galarraga (3), AJones (16). GIDP -- JLopez, Sheffield.
DP -- Atlanta 1 (Graffanino, Weiss and Galarraga); Los Angeles 1 (Bonilla, EcYoung and Karros).