Major Leagues: Smoltz comeback ends quickly
By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA ó John Smoltz knew the pain was too intense to keep pitching this season.
Now, the Atlanta Braves right-hander hopes to add one more comeback to his remarkable career.
Smoltz will undergo season-ending surgery on his ailing right shoulder next week, but the 41-year-old is not ready to concede his next move is retirement.
“I’ve pulled off a lot of miracles,” Smoltz said Wednesday at a hastily called news conference before the Braves’ game against the Florida Marlins. “I probably shouldn’t have played this long. I’m looking forward to seeing if I can extend it.”
The only pitcher in baseball history with 200 wins and 150 saves already has returned from four operations on his elbow, but it’s highly improbable for someone his age to come back from a major procedure. No wonder the news conference took on the tenor of a retirement announcement.
“This is a sad day for us in many ways,” general manager Frank Wren said. “We don’t know the outcome of the surgery, whether it will allow him to come back and pitch or just allow him to go on with his life.”
Still, Smoltz has defied the odds before.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he came back as a left-handed pitcher,” said Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez, a former Braves coach.
Smoltz’s shoulder began hurting nearly a year ago during a start in Milwaukee. He’s been on the disabled list three times since then and tried all sorts of radical solutions to cope with the pain.
He came up with a new routine at spring training, spending most of his time on the back fields pitching against minor leaguers. When the discomfort persisted through his first five starts, he decided to return to the closer role he held from 2001-04, believing that fewer innings would help him get through the season.
But one inning against the Marlins on Monday night convinced him that it was futile to continue.
“I certainly was prepared for it. I never had two days in a row where I felt good,” Smoltz said. “I realized it the next day. Actually, I realized an hour afterward that the pain was just too great and I couldn’t continue.”
Initially diagnosed with severe inflammation, Smoltz isn’t sure what the real problem is. He’ll put his future in the hands of Dr. James Andrews, the sports surgeon who’ll perform the arthroscopic procedure in Birmingham, Ala.
“We won’t know until they get in there,” Smoltz said. “I’m sure when I wake up, the first question I’ll ask is, ‘What did you find?’ I’ll have no problem with whatever they tell me.”
If nothing else, he’s hoping for a better quality of life. Smoltz said it’s been difficult to sleep, play with his children or just do ordinary chores around the house because of his aching shoulder.
“We’re talking about enjoying life a little bit more than I’ve been able to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s very difficult. A shoulder is like a lower back problem; it puts you in a pretty bad mood. You use your shoulder for everything.”