Sports

Smoltz Purges Astros Ties Record For Postseason Wins As Braves Advance To Nlcs

Meet the new Mr. October, John Smoltz.

Smoltz pitched a three-hitter in one of his most dominating postseason performances, and the Atlanta Braves cruised into an unprecedented sixth straight N.L. Championship Series with a 4-1 victory Friday over the Houston Astros.

“When October comes, it’s my month,” said Smoltz, who won his 10th postseason game and tied the record held by Whitey Ford and Dave Stewart. “There’s nobody I trust more than myself. When I get in the car, I want to drive. When I put on the uniform, I want to pitch.”

Smoltz, who helped the Braves complete a three-game sweep, feels a little like the original Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.

“Certain people just feel that way,” Smoltz said. “I’ve talked with Reggie about it. He’s Mr. October and he said he felt the same way I do now.”

The Braves, who had 101 victories during the regular season and became the first team in baseball history with six straight postseason appearances, were simply too strong for the Astros, who won the Central Division with an 84-78 record, worst among playoff teams.

After the final out, the Braves celebrated briefly on the field much like they would after a regular-season victory. In the clubhouse, just a few bottles of champagne were popped.

“You didn’t see a lot of jubilation,” said Chipper Jones, who silenced the record Astrodome crowd with a long first-inning homer. “There are four steps. We’ve achieved two (winning the N.L. East and the division series), we’ve got two more to go.”

Despite their amazing run of success in the 1990s, the Braves have captured only one World Series title. They will play Florida starting Tuesday as they try to win their fifth N.L. pennant in six completed seasons.

After losing the series opener 2-1 in Atlanta, the Astros wilted under the pressure of their first playoff appearance since 1986. The Braves outscored the Astros 17-4 the last two games.

“It certainly leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” Houston manager Larry Dierker said. “But it serves as a reminder that we need to get a little bit better next year.”

On a staff filled with Cy Young Award winners, no one is better than Smoltz at this time of year. He improved his postseason record to 10-2, baffling the Astros with a devastating split-finger and a 95-mph fastball that sliced across the outside corner with amazing precision all day.

The only hits against Smoltz were a first-inning single by Jeff Bagwell, a seventh-inning homer by Chuck Carr and a two-out single by Luis Gonzalez in the ninth. The right-hander had 11 strikeouts - one short of his season high.

“This is one of the greatest games I’ve pitched,” Smoltz said. “From inning one until inning nine, I never felt like I was in trouble.”

Braves 4, Astros 1 Atlanta Houston ab r h bi ab r h bi Lofton cf 5 0 1 0 Biggio 2b 4 0 0 0 Lckhrt 2b 3 0 0 0 DeBell rf 4 0 0 0 Grffnno 2b 1 0 0 0 Bgwell 1b 4 0 1 0 ChJnes 3b 4 1 3 1 LGnzlz lf 4 0 1 0 McGrff 1b 2 1 0 0 Spiers 3b 4 0 0 0 Klesko lf 3 1 1 0 Carr cf 3 1 1 1 Butista lf 1 0 0 0 Gterrez ss 2 0 0 0 JLopez c 4 1 1 0 Asmus c 2 0 0 0 Tucker rf 3 0 1 1 Abreu ph 1 0 0 0 AJones rf 1 0 0 0 Pena c 0 0 0 0 Blauser ss 3 0 1 1 Rynlds p 1 0 0 0 Smoltz p 4 0 0 0 RuJhsn ph 1 0 0 0 RSprgr p 0 0 0 0 TMrtn p 0 0 0 0 RGrcia p 0 0 0 0 THwrd ph 1 0 0 0 Mgnnte p 0 0 0 0 Totals 34 4 8 3 Totals 31 1 3 1 Atlanta 110 000 110 4 Houston 000 000 100 1 ELockhart (1), ChJones (1), Bagwell (2). DPAtlanta 1, Houston 1. LOBAtlanta 6, Houston 4. 2BKlesko (1), JLopez (2). HR ChJones (1), Carr (1).

Atlanta IP H R ER BB SO Smoltz W,1-0 9 3 1 1 1 11 Houston IP H R ER BB SO Reynolds L,0-1 6 5 2 2 1 5 RSpringer 1 2 1 1 1 1 TMartin 1/3 1 1 0 1 0 RGarcia 2/3 0 0 0 0 1 Magnante 1 0 0 0 0 0 PB-Ausmus.

T-2:31. A-53,688 (54,370).



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