When John Smoltz made his Major League debut,
pitching eight innings of one-run, four-hit ball against the Mets, the
Montreal Expos were beating the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 at Riverfront
How times have changed. Riverfront
Stadium was demolished nearly seven years ago. The Expos moved to San
Juan, Puerto Rico as wards of the game before landing a new existence
in our nation’s capital as the Washington Nationals.
Tonight, Smoltz faces those Nationals, pitching a big-league game
for a team other than the Atlanta Braves. He is a sure-fire Hall of
Famer, headed there on his first ballot someday, but he is in no rush.
He wants to keep competing, and he has found the perfect landing spot
This is the right place and the right time for Smoltz. He is joining
a team holding onto its largest lead of the season, riding a 16-5 run
over the last 21 games. He joins a rotation that has allowed three or
fewer runs in 16 of the last 22 games and leads the American League in
wins and strikeouts.
More importantly, he joins a team that has the lowest relief ERA in
baseball (2.84) and has allowed a league-low 26.7 percent of inherited
runners to score. The Sox lead the Majors with a 36-1 record when
leading after seven innings.
In other words, he’s joining a team that doesn’t need him.
Think about it. Clay Buchholz would be pitching
for any of the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball. Instead, he’s
overwhelming hitters in AAA. Very few other teams would’ve had the
luxury of sending Daisuke Matsuzaka to two — two — trips to the DL to work out his self-inflicted shoulder fatigue. Justin Masterson would probably be forced into the rotation of most teams.
It is clear the Red Sox have the deepest pitching staff in the game.
They are surviving, thriving, without Buchholz, Matsuzaka, or Masterson
in the rotation. Now they welcome the only pitcher in history with more
than 200 wins and 150 saves. He will become just the third pitcher in
big-league history to spend at least 20 seasons with one franchise
before appearing in a game with another.
When Smoltz arrived in Ft. Myers this spring, he said he was just
about ready to go. The Sox told him to relax and get ready to join the
team mid-season. Here we are, 71 games deep, and Smoltz is making his
debut with a new team.
Remember what Roger Clemens was supposed to do for
the Yankees two years ago? He was going to give them that veteran arm
to put them over the top. As we all know, it didn’t work out quite the
way George Steinbrenner had hoped.
Of course, Clemens was making $4.5 million a month for the Yankees
that season. He came in with a long list of demands and was joining a
pitching staff in bad need of help.
Smoltz is making no such demands. He signed with the Sox hoping to pitch for a contender.
Right now, they look like more than a contender — they look like the
best team in the American League. And they don’t need a savior. This
isn’t just the first time Smoltz is pitching for an American League
team; it’s also the first time he’s taking the mound as a
It’s not that the Red Sox don’t need anything from Smoltz. It’s just
that what they really need is his postseason experience. No one has
more playoff success. And that’s why this pitcher and this team truly
are a perfect match.