My Favorite John Smoltz Moments
Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Atlanta Braves had an unprecedented run of division championships. That string of 14 straight division titles was spurred by the three-headed monster of starters Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. The Braves have since honored Glavine and Maddux by retiring their numbers and have just announced that the trio will be completed when Smoltz has his number 29 retired alongside his counterparts in Atlanta on June 8.
To commemorate this great honor, I have picked my three favorite moments from Smoltz’s career. Let me just say that his greatest game was probably Game 7 of the 1991 NLCS, when he clinched a trip to the World Series in the Braves' “Worst to First” season. However, I’m not placing it in my top three memories because I was too young to remember it clearly. Here are the three:
3. June 7, 1999 vs Tampa Bay- The Braves had a championship run in 1999 led by National League MVP Chipper Jones, but this game was all about Smoltz. Down 3-0 early in the game, Smoltz smacked a three-run homer off Dave Eiland to tie the game. Then, in his next at-bat, he singled. He finished 2-for-3 in a 9-5 win for the Braves. It was his fifth and final career home run, but that was one of the best parts about Smoltz and the other Braves pitchers—they knew how to handle the bat well. This eventually led them to make the “Chicks dig the long ball” commercial, which was absolutely priceless.
2. 2002 Season- After having Tommy John surgery in 2000, Smoltz made a successful transition to the bullpen. That in itself was a testament to the fact that he would do anything to help his team win games. But, in 2002, he showed that he could still make a huge impact on the game without starting. In his first full season as Atlanta's closer, he broke the National League saves record. It was extra gratifying for me because I remember rubbing it in the faces of all the doubters who said that Smoltz was washed up.
1. 1996 Season- It’s hard to single out a single game to pick as a standout moment from the 1996 season, because Smoltz was lights out the entire year. The Braves were coming off the World Championship season in 1995 and Smoltz seemed to be on a mission after not having his greatest Postseason in ’95. He was almost untouchable, finishing with a record of 24-8 and winning the Cy Young Award. And, although that season didn’t end in a World Series Championship, it was amazing to watch him deal every fifth day throughout that season.
Congratulations, Mr. Smoltz. It’s a well-deserved honor after all the gritty performances you gave in a Braves uniform. The moment they reveal that number 29 alongside 31 and 47 will be a moment I will be watching and will not soon forget.