Smoltz returns 'home'

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ATLANTA --- John Smoltz woke up in his own bed, made pancakes for the kids, took a dip in the pool, then headed to the ballpark.

That's where things got a little strange.

"I can't help but think about all the times I drove in here, walked through that tunnel and made a quick right," he said. "This time, I had to go by it."

Instead of going to Atlanta's home clubhouse, as he had done for the past two decades, Smoltz kept on walking to the visiting side. He now plays for the Boston Red Sox, who opened a three-game series against the Braves on Friday.

"I was honored to wear that other uniform as long as I did," the 42-year-old right-hander said before the game. "I wish them well -- except for these three games."

Smoltz got a chance to catch up with old friends when the Braves played a series in Boston last weekend. And he didn't have to pitch against his former team, having made his first big league start in more than a year the previous night at Washington.

Still, there was plenty of nostalgia as Smoltz returned to the city where he had so many brilliant seasons, where he expected to spend his entire career until a rather acrimonious split at the end of last year.

"This place will always be synonymous with me having some great moments," Smoltz said. "Nothing can take that away."

The Red Sox gave him some extra time in the minors to rehab, setting up the schedule so he would miss pitching against the Braves in either Boston or Atlanta.

"I would have loved to pitch out here for all the obvious reasons," Smoltz said. "This is my favorite park to pitch in, period. I would have loved the opportunity. But I just didn't think making the first start here would have been a smart one. All the things that surrounded my first start at Washington would have been that much worse here."

As it was, Smoltz was a little too pumped up for his first start since the injury that effectively ended his career in Atlanta and many felt would end his career for good.

He gave up four runs to the Nationals in the first inning, but settled down after that. He retired the side in order in three of the next four innings and fanned the last three hitters he faced in the fifth. Most important, his surgically repaired shoulder felt fine the day after.

Smoltz warmed up on the third-base side and watched the game from the visiting dugout -- a rather odd sight.

"It's just weird. It doesn't seem right," Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez said. "It's like seeing Chipper (Jones) in a Mets uniform or something."

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