ATLANTA - If all goes according to plan, the Braves will clinch the division tonight, but that won't lessen the sudden unease they feel at John Smoltz's vulnerability.
Smoltz, who complained before Wednesday night's 11-8 loss to the Cincinnati Reds that his pitches lacked crispness, is now aware that the 10 games remaining in the regular season won't be a carefree cruise into October.
Two outs from recording his 41st save, Atlanta's closer was rocked for five runs on four hits in the ninth inning, including Javier Valentin's three-run home run, as the Reds evened the series and left the crowd of 19,573 fans at Turner Field shaking their heads in disbelief.
Smoltz's fifth blown save came after Chipper Jones' 30th home run, a three-run drive against Reds reliever John Riedling in the seventh inning, gave the Braves an 8-6 lead.
Despite the loss, the Braves magic number dropped to two, courtesy of the Phillies' 12-4 win over the Marlins.
The Reds battered Braves starter Paul Byrd for 10 hits and six runs in four innings. Byrd's performance likely made him the fourth starter in a three-man rotation for the first round of the playoffs and if that's the case, the 33-year-old righthander will probably be left off the roster altogether.
The Braves, who beat Reds rookie starter Josh Hancock while he was with the Phillies in June, took advantage of the 26-year-old right-hander's wildness to score two runs in the first.
|Braves' magic number is 2|
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