Smoltz isn't done, gives Braves hope with shutout

ATLANTA (AP) -- John Smoltz knows the Atlanta Braves may not make
it to the playoffs this year.

"If nothing else, let's find a way to get to .500 and see what
happens," he said Monday night after pitching the Braves to a 3-0
victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Smoltz (11-6) won his fifth straight home start, taking a no-hit
bid into the sixth inning and combining on a four-hitter.

"He's amazing," 22-year-old catcher Brian McCann said of the
39-year-old Smoltz. "He's the captain of this team. We needed a
big performance from him to start the homestand."

Smoltz struck out 10, allowing three hits and one walk in eight
innings in his fourth double-digit strikeout game of the season,
the 40th of his career.

"We've come to expect that kind of outing out of him every
time," Chipper Jones said.

Atlanta (59-65) is 5 games behind Cincinnati, the NL wild-card
leader, with less than six weeks to play. The Braves have won 14
consecutive division titles -- all with Smoltz.

"We're too good of a team not to be at least .500," he said.
"We may not be a great team. We may not make the playoffs, but we
have to get to .500. That should be the focus."

Smoltz retired 14 consecutive batters starting with the final
out of the first.

"I really think that John mislocated only two pitches all
night," Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said. "He used very little
of the plate all night long."

Last Wednesday at Washington, Smoltz allowed six runs in a 9-6
loss -- his only defeat since June 13.

"I was pretty embarrassed about my last game," he said. "I
felt like I let the team down. I don't know if this will make
sense, but I was into every pitch as much as I've ever been in my
life today, just to turn it around."

Smoltz put more emphasis on his splitter and saved his curveball
for his last two innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of 29

"I felt like I was strike one on almost everybody," Smoltz
said. "I had a really good split today, which I haven't had all
year. To break it out today was encouraging to me for the rest of
the season."

Pittsburgh's only hits off Smoltz were singles by Chris Duffy in
the sixth and by Jose Castillo and Duffy with two outs in the
eighth. Smoltz then retired Jack Wilson on a groundout.

"He's the same dominating guy he's always been," Pittsburgh's
Jeromy Burnitz said.

Bob Wickman finished with a one-hit ninth for his ninth straight
save since the Braves acquired him from Cleveland on July 20. With
its fourth shutout of the season, Atlanta broke a tie with
Washington for fewest in the National League.

Two defensive plays helped out Smoltz. Shortstop Edgar Renteria
made a charging, barehanded pickup in front of second base before
throwing out Freddy Sanchez in the sixth, and left fielder Matt
Diaz made a diving catch of a Xavier Nady's line drive to end the

Pittsburgh's Zach Duke (8-11) gave up three runs and seven hits
in seven innings.

"Your mind-set in a game like that is basically to stay
ahead," Duke said before adding "Pitch the way Smoltz did."

Renteria hit an RBI double in the third, and Martin Prado hit a
two-run double in the fifth. They were the first major league RBI
for Prado, who was 1-for-5 before he was sent to the minor leagues
on April 25. Atlanta recalled him earlier Monday.

Prado said he tried to follow the advice of hitting coach Terry

"He tells me, 'Don't try to do too much, just swing,'" Prado
said. "I'm so glad something like that happened."

Atlanta had runners thrown out on the bases in the third and
fourth innings. Prado was out at the plate in the third on
shortstop Jack Wilson's relay throw from left fielder Jason Bay
following Renteria's double. Jeff Francoeur was thrown out by Bay
at second when he tried to stretch a single in the fourth.

Game notes
The Pirates have been shut out 10 times, tied with Colorado
and Houston for second in the NL behind Chicago (12). ...
Pittsburgh is 6-25 in Atlanta since going 4-1 in 1997. ... The game
lasted 1 hour, 59 minutes, matching the Braves' shortest this