Originally created 08/22/06

Smoltz keeps buoying team



ATLANTA - It's ironic, in some senses, that one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball history is helping keep his team afloat for this year's playoffs.

Then again, maybe 39-year-old starter John Smoltz doesn't know how many more autumns he'll be around.

Without Smoltz, the Atlanta Braves' hunt for mid-October would be sunk. A performance such as Monday's against Pittsburgh is Exhibit A.

Smoltz threw eight scoreless innings, striking out 10 and giving up three hits, in Atlanta's nearly effortless 3-0 victory at Turner Field that required just an hour and 59 minutes to complete.

Bob Wickman finished up the team's shutout with a scoreless ninth for his ninth save in nine tries as a Brave.

Martin Prado, just called up Monday from Triple-A Richmond, set up Atlanta's first run with an infield single, and he drove in the big second and third runs with a double in the fifth.

It was the 22-year-old's first major-league RBI. Prado was filling in for Marcus Giles, whose injured left hand still might be a few days from healing.

With the win, the Braves, who've won four of five, didn't hurt their chances for the National League wild-card berth. They trail Cincinnati by 5 games because the Reds won Monday night.

An announced crowd of 21,898 showed up to see the Braves open a nine-game homestand that will, in all likelihood, decide whether they're to be contenders for the playoffs.

Smoltz deserved more. Especially with how well he's thrown in his home park this season, his 18th year in the majors.

Smoltz (11-6) hasn't lost at home since June 7. In his past five Turner Field starts, he's 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA. He has struck out 44, with three walks in that span.

Reach R. Travis Haney at travis.haney@morris.com.