Braves blank Marlins
By Steven Wine
MIAMI ó With John Smoltz on the mound and Chipper Jones at the plate, their team looked like the Atlanta Braves of old.
The Braves were off to their worst start since 1990 entering Thursdayís game, but Smoltz and Jones provided a lift to help beat the Florida Marlins 8-0.
Smoltz pitched five shutout innings and struck out 10, increasing his career total to 2,996. Jones went 4-for-4 with two homers and three RBIs.
There were other heroes: Atlanta hit five homers, including three in a row off Ricky Nolasco. Four relievers combined to pitch four hitless innings and complete a three-hitter with 16 strikeouts.
But Smoltz and Jones remain the best thing about this yearís dismal start for the injury-plagued Braves, who snapped a three-game losing streak and won for only the third time in 10 road games.
iEvery win is big for us right now,î Jones said. iLetís build upon this and start something of a roll.î
Smoltz has been nursing tightness in his right shoulder, but he lowered his ERA to 0.56 and improved to 3-0 in three starts. The rest of the Braves staff is 3-9.
Smoltz walked none, allowed only three hits and reached double figures in strikeouts for the 44th time.
iI feel like my slider is as good as it has ever been,î Smoltz said. iMy only frustration is that the point Iím at now, I know Iím not going eight or nine innings.î
Jones raised his batting average to .443. He had an RBI double in the first inning and a homer in the third, and with two out in the fifth, Jones, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann hit consecutive home runs in a span of 12 pitches. Kelly Johnson added a two-run shot in the sixth.
Jonesí multihomer game was the 37th of his career.
iI have never seen Chipper start a season the way heís starting,î Smoltz said. iHeís carrying us. Heís hot, and you know everyone else around him is going to get hot. And when that happens, weíre going to be a very, very difficult team to pitch to.î
Manager Bobby Cox called a team meeting before the game, and the Braves responded with a win to finish an 11-day trip 3-6.
iBobby does a lot of things at the right time that a lot of people donít know about,î Smoltz said. iThis was an encouragement meeting. The manager doesnít speak often, and when he does, he seems to know what to say.î