<
>

Smoltz gives up five runs, blows lead, game

ATLANTA (AP) -- John Smoltz is used to closing out games for the
Atlanta Braves. Blowing saves is something he's not accustomed to.

"It's a shock to your system," he said. "It's embarrassing."

Javier Valentin hit a three-run homer to cap Cincinnati's
five-run comeback in the ninth inning off Smoltz, leading the Reds
to an 11-8 victory over the Braves on Wednesday night.

Chipper Jones' three-run homer in the seventh gave the Braves an
8-6 lead, but Smoltz (0-1) gave up four hits and five runs, walking
a batter and throwing two wild pitches while recording only one out
in the ninth.

"He just got some pitches down the middle," Braves manager
Bobby Cox said. "Nothing is wrong with him. It's just location."

Smoltz blew a save for the fifth time in 45 chances and saw his
ERA climb from 2.34 to 2.91.

Jones isn't not worried about Smoltz, "so long as he gets it
ironed out in the next 10 days."

"I have to believe that once it's go-time and we put all the
chips on the table, we'll see a different Smoltz than we've seen
the last couple of outings," Jones said.

In two appearances against the Reds this week, Smoltz has given
up seven hits and six runs in 1 1-3 innings. He earned his 40th
save Tuesday night despite giving up three hits and a run, but he
couldn't escape again Wednesday night

"They fouled off my real good pitches and hit the ones that
were so-so," Smoltz said.

"You don't handle him very often," Reds manager Dave Miley
said. "You have to enjoy it when you do."

Despite the loss, the Braves could clinch their 13th straight
division title on Thursday -- thanks to Philadelphia's 12-4 win over
Florida.

In the top of the ninth, Felipe Lopez singled, went to second on
a wild pitch and scored on Sean Casey's single. Casey went to
second on another wild pitch and scored on D'Angelo Jimenez's
double to right one out later.

"It's sweet to win against a big-time pitcher like him,"
Jimenez said.

Pinch-hitter Jacob Cruz was intentionally walked and Valentin
followed with a homer to right on a 2-2 count for his fourth hit.

Valentin said he was looking for a fastball when Smoltz threw a
split-finger pitch down the middle.

"I was not trying to do too much," Valentin said. "He's one
of the best pitchers in baseball right now. ... I put good wood on
it. I knew I hit the ball good."

Phil Norton (2-5) recorded one out in the eighth to earn the win
for the Reds, who had a season-high 17 hits against eight Braves
pitchers. Rookie Joe Valentine earned his second save despite
walking two batters in the bottom of the ninth.

The Braves scored three runs in the sixth off Reds starter Josh
Hancock and took the lead with three runs in the seventh on Jones'
homer off reliever John Riedling.

The three RBI gave Jones 91, including 57 since the All-Star
break. He's trying to reach 100 RBI for the ninth straight season.

In the first, Giles homered with one out and Hancock walked two
but would've escaped the inning with only one run allowed if not
for a throwing error by shortstop Anderson Machado on Adam
LaRoche's grounder.

After the error, Hancock retired the next 13 through the fifth
inning.

The Reds tied it against Paul Byrd in the second on back-to-back
doubles by Adam Dunn and Jimenez, and a fielder's choice grounder
by Machado.

Dunn's two-out single to right drove in Lopez in the third
inning for a 3-2 Reds lead.

The Reds added three unearned runs in the fourth as Byrd and
LaRoche committed throwing errors. Byrd threw wildly to first after
fielding a grounder by Machado, allowing Valentin to score from
first. LaRoche's one-hop throw to the plate bounced past catcher
Johnny Estrada, allowing Machado to score.

Casey had an RBI single in the fourth to make it 6-2.

In the sixth, Hancock gave up a sacrifice fly to Estrada and a
two-run double by LaRoche that skipped past Casey at first base.

Byrd allowed 10 hits and six runs, three earned, in four
innings.

Hancock gave up five runs -- four earned -- on only three hits and
five walks in 5 2-3 innings.

Game notes
Riedling is 0-for-7 in save opportunities. ... Byrd's
four-inning outing was his shortest since he lasted only two
against Florida on June 30. ... A line drive by Giles hit Hancock
near his right hip and bounced past Lopez at third base for an
infield hit to open the sixth. Hancock stayed in after throwing two
practice pitches with a trainer and Reds pitching coach Don Gullett
standing by the mound.