After starting out the season 1-3 against the Nationals and Pirates, the Braves moved into a tie for first place in the division on Sunday, completing a rain-shortened sweep of the rival Mets with a 3-1 win. On paper, Sunday's matchup was a pitching battle for the ages and it lived up to its billing with John Smoltz and New York's new starter Johan Santana combining to allow only one run in twelve innings.
Smoltz got off to a somewhat rocky start in today's game. After striking out Jose Reyes and getting Luis Castillo to ground out, Smoltz walked both David Wright and Carlos Beltran on what he thought (and he was probably right) were strikes. Despite the walks, the veteran right-hander struck out Carlos Delgado to end the inning and escape any trouble. That was the closest Smoltz got to giving up a run during his start as he ended up going five innings while allowing only two hits, the two first-inning walks, and striking out six. He left after throwing only 78 pitches due to shoulder muscle spasms in his right shoulder.
The offense was fairly quiet but did enough against two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana to hand him his first defeat of the 2008 season. Santana held the Braves at bay until the third inning. Mark Kotsay led off with a double into the right-field corner and then John Smoltz moved him over with a sacrifice bunt. Kelly Johnson came up with one out and was robbed of an RBI by a great defensive play from Johan Santana. With two outs, Yunel Escobar doubled over leftfielder Angel Pagan's (who misplayed the ball) head to drive in the Braves' only run against Santana.
Bobby Cox turned to Blaine Boyer, Will Ohman, and Peter Moylan to get the team through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Boyer turned in another very impressive performance in his perfect inning of work. The Georgia-native caught both Luis Castillo and David Wright looking at called third strikes. Ohman and Moylan weren't quite as good, but managed to work a scoreless inning each.
With a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth, Mark Teixeira gave the Braves some much needed breathing room. After a two-out walk to Chipper Jones, the All-Star firstbaseman hit a towering two-run homerun off the top of the rightfield wall, which increased Atlanta's lead to three runs.
Those extra runs proved to be the difference in the game. Rafael Soriano was called upon, after pitching an inning the day before, to get his first save of the season. Soriano looked a little rusty to say the least. The first-year closer opened the ninth with a walk to David Wright. After a strikeout of Carlos Beltran strikeout and a Carlos Delgado fly out, Soriano gave up an RBI-single to Ryan Church. A walk to Angel Pagan put the tying run on base with two outs and made Braves fans' hearts start to pound. With two on, Brian Schneider smoked a ball down the first base line, but Mark Teixeira knocked it down on a diving play and flipped to Soriano for the final out.
The Braves will turn the ball over to Tom Glavine tomorrow to start the first game of a four-game set with the defending NL Champion Colorado Rockies at 8:35 PM ET. Jair Jurrjens, Chuck James, and Tim Hudson will also take the mound during the series.