A dominating pitching performance by John Smoltz and big hits by some of their lesser players propelled the Atlanta Braves to a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 1 of the National League playoffs Tuesday night.
Smoltz threw hitless baseball through 4 innings and finished with a nifty four-hitter over eight innings. Mark Lemke, Sid Bream and Jeff Blauser all delivered key hits as the Braves chased Pittsburgh starter Doug Drabek in the fifth.
The series is a rematch of the 1991 playoffs, won by Atlanta in seven games. And while some of the names may have changed, the Pirates' bottom line remained essentially the same _ little or no offense.
Until second baseman Jose Lind's home run to lead off the eighth inning, the Pirates had advanced just one runner past second base. And until Lind's blast, the Pirates had gone 29 post-season innings without a run, dating to the fifth inning of Game 5 last year.
An Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium crowd of 51,971 showed its appreciation on a chilly night as the Braves seemingly did everything right.
Smoltz walked three and struck out six during his 112-pitch outing. He improved his playoffs record to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.54. Mike Stanton pitched the ninth.
Game 2 is today at 3:07. Pittsburgh's Danny Jackson will face Atlanta's Steve Avery in a battle of left-handers.
The Braves struck first Tuesday with a run in the second. Bream singled up the middle with one out, and catcher Damon Berryhill worked a full-count walk. Lemke delivered a bouncer up the middle that Lind knocked down but threw late to home as Bream chugged across the plate.
Lemke, the Atlanta second baseman who was a hero in last year's World Series with a .417 average, made a sparkling defensive play in the top of the third, ranging far to his right and then throwing out Mike LaValliere at first base.
Atlanta built the lead to 3-0 in the fourth _ with plenty of help from the Pirates.
David Justice led off with a walk and was running on the pitch when Bream doubled off the left-centerfield wall. The second run, which was unearned, came when Ron Gant bunted toward first. Orlando Merced mishandled the ball, then threw wildly past first base, allowing Bream to lumber home again.
The Braves added another run in the fifth on a homer by Blauser and chased Drabek.
For Drabek, the outing was his shortest since he worked 4 innings Aug.
28 against San Diego. The 1990 Cy Young Award winner was behind much of the night, throwing 96 pitches to the 22 batters he faced. Drabek allowed four runs on five hits, struck out four and walked two.
Tuesday's performance was a disappointing reversal for Drabek, who had held a career post-season record of 2-2 and an ERA of 1.15, the best among active pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched and the seventh-best of all time. After Tuesday, his ERA rose to 1.75.
Atlanta starter John Smoltz, meanwhile, pitched 4 no-hit innings. The 25-year-old right-hander led the National League with 215 strikeouts while posting a 15-12 record and 2.85 ERA this season. From July 5-27, he compiled a streak of 29 scoreless innings. In a May 24 game at Montreal, he struck out 15 batters. He beat the Pirates twice in the playoffs last year.
The first hit off Smoltz came with two out in the fifth. Jose Lind bounced the ball up the middle and Lemke raced across the field to make the play, but Lind reached first ahead of Lemke's high throw.
On Monday, Braves manager Bobby Cox defended his decision to use Smoltz in the opener, saying the right-hander had been "dominating" late in the season. Smoltz proved him right on Tuesday.