MIAMI -- It could have been worse. John Smoltz might have felt painin his right elbow.
But the only pain he felt Tuesday night came from Derrek Lee's bat.
Spoiling Smoltz's second comeback start, Lee won the game for theFlorida Marlins when he tripled in a run in the fourth and delivered arun-scoring single in the sixth, giving the Marlins a 3-2 decision overthe Braves before 12,014 at Pro Player Stadium.
"He looked like the old Smoltz to me," Marlins manager John Bolessaid. "I'm sure he's going to be a big, big guy for them."
The Braves made it interesting, scoring single runs against Marlinsstarter Chuck Smith in the eighth and closer Antonio Alfonseca in theninth. With the tying run on second base, Alfonseca struck out pinchhitter Wes Helms on three pitches to end the game.
Smoltz's perfection against the Marlins died a quiet death. He was7-0 against the Fish in his last seven starts and had won his lastthree starts here, but in 5 1/3 innings, he gave up nine hits and threeruns, did not walk a batter, and had five strikeouts.
"I don't know if I've ever been 0-2, but I've got to feel goodabout my start," said Smoltz, who lost his first three decisions in1991. "When you're trying to win and accomplish things at the sametime, I can't beat myself up over how things have gone. I keep lookingat the things I've done and I'm happy with it."
"Smoltz was strong tonight," manager Bobby Cox said. "He'sliable to throw a shutout real soon."
Braves hitters, meanwhile, had no success solving Smith, who gaveup six hits and one run in 7 2/3 innings, and threw 106 pitches, 68 forstrikes.
Smith, who won six games last season as a 30-year-old rookie,didn't give up a hit until Quilvio Veras started the fourth with asingle. Veras was caught stealing, but Chipper Jones walked, and BrianJordan singled, a brief rally that ended with Dave Martinez's swingingstrikeout.
The Braves didn't advance another runner beyond first base untilthe sixth when Smith invited trouble by walking Smoltz. Andruw Jones,who whiffed in his first two trips, singled off second baseman LuisCastillo's chest, then Chipper Jones whiffed on an 89 m.p.h. fastball,and Brian Jordan rolled out harmlessly to Castillo.
"He made us look stupid," Chipper Jones said. "His ball wasrunning like crazy, it had real good movement."
The Braves broke through against Smith in the eighth. Veras rippeda triple past the lunge of right fielder Eric Owens, and Andruw Jones'60-foot tapper turned into a run-scoring infield hit.
Smith, who beat the Braves last July at Turner Field, got two outsin the eighth and turned over a 3-1 lead to his bullpen.
"The best pitcher we've faced all year," declared Martinez, whowhiffed twice before tripling in the ninth. "I've never seen a guythrow a changeup inside to a left-handed hitter for strikes. That'stough to do. He pitched awesome."
The Marlins, who lost the opening game of this three-game setMonday, pinned Smoltz against the ropes in the first inning. Owenssingled and Cliff Floyd followed with a double to left-center, butSmoltz came back with a pair of roundhouse punches, striking outCharles Johnson and Kevin Millar.
That was a huge improvement on Smoltz's first inning last Thursday,when he threw 30 pitches and allowed three runs.
"Things were a lot more slowed down tonight and I gave us a chanceto win," Smoltz said. "I had a better feel for the game than I didthe first game."
The Braves once again paid dearly for careless defense. ShortstopRafael Furcal's inability to turn a double play in the fourth cost arun. Furcal booted John Mabry's routine grounder and got only a forceout at second base, and Lee followed with a triple to the right-centerfield wall to put the Marlins on the board.
Smoltz, who threw 70 pitches in three innings against the Rockies,didn't reach 70 until he finished off a three-up, three-down fifth.
But in the sixth, singles by Floyd, Johnson and Millar made it 2-0,and following a visit to the mound by pitching coach Leo Mazzone, Leedelivered a run-scoring single, and Smith had a 3-0 lead en route tohis third win without a loss this season, and fifth straight datingback to last season.
"I threw a lot of good pitches and they seem to get a lot of hitsright now, but that's going to change," said Smoltz, who threw 86pitches, 63 for strikes. "I was a pitch and a play away from notgiving up any runs."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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