ATLANTA - The Braves may have found their new closer.
It wasn't a save situation, but John Smoltz finished off the Braves' 8-2 victory win over Montreal on Sunday at Turner Field.
Smoltz retired all three batters he faced, getting two to fly out to center field and striking out Brad Wilkerson to end the game in his first-ever regular-season relief appearance.
Still, neither Smoltz nor manager Bobby Cox is anointing the 34-year old right-hander as the team's closer.
"This is just the first step," Smoltz said. "I have no plans whatsoever, except to pitch when he asks me."
Cox may be asking for Smoltz more often. Smoltz threw just nine pitches, but threw several fastballs, three at 96 mile per hour and two at 97. In addition, he used his slider to strike out Wilkerson.
"Stuff-wise, he was tremendous," said catcher Paul Bako. "The radar didn't show how hard he was throwing. The ball was jumping at the end and he had a devastating slider."
Smoltz was able to ease through his outing in part because of the six-run lead the offense spotted him and the outstanding performance from starter Greg Maddux (13-5).
Maddux, who won his ninth straight game, continued to impress and has almost made these types of games routine.
"I thought he (Maddux) had the kind of stuff for a two-hitter or a shutout," Cox said.
Maddux did give up nine hits, but allowed just two runs and struck out seven Expos, dropping his ERA to 2.43. He didn't give up a walk, extending his streak to 51 innings without a walk. He threw 93 pitches and 73 were for strikes.
With the victory, Maddux also moved into a tie for 37th place on the all-time win list with Carl Hubbell at 253 career wins. He went 5-0 in June and is 4-0 in July.
Maddux gave up a solo home run to Vladimir Guerrero in the first inning, but struck out the next Montreal batter, Lee Stevens, to end the inning. It was Guerrero's 27th home run of the season.
"He's just a tremendous hitter," said Bako, who said that it was a good pitch that Guerrero hit out. "You can't throw the ball far enough in or far out to keep it away from him. He's going to get his hits and do his damage."
The deficit would be short-lived for the Braves as they struck back in the bottom of the first.
B.J. Surhoff singled, and Chipper Jones, batting in the third spot in the lineup followed with a walk. That brought up Brian Jordan, who was in the fourth spot for the first time since May 25 against Pittsburgh.
"Hitting behind Chipper gives me a lot of opportunities," Jordan said. "No. 4 is a pressure spot, but I've had a lot of success there."
Jordan responded to his new spot in the lineup with a home run to right field, his 14th of the season, off Montreal starter Troy Mattes (3-2).
"When we get runs like that, it makes what I'm trying to do a lot easier," Maddux said.
Maddux helped his own cause in the second with an RBI groundout, scoring Paul Bako.
The Braves added three more runs in the sixth. Jordan doubled down the left-field line. Ken Caminiti singled to right, scoring Jordan, but Guerrero threw behind Caminiti rounding first base. Caminiti got stuck in a run-down and was tagged out, but interference was ruled on the play and Caminiti went to second base. Wes Helms came in as a pinch-runner and Andruw Jones singled Helms home. Jones scored on a single by Mark DeRosa.
"I feel like things are coming together, we feel like a team that should be in first by three games," said Jordan, who was a triple shy of the cycle. "It seems like we have a different hero every night and someone is always going to come through. That's what championship teams do.
"Right now Andruw is struggling, but if DeRosa can pick him up, or I can pick him up, we'll do that. And then when someone else is struggling later in the season, Andruw will be there to pick him up."
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