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Hall os Famers Maddux, Smoltz meet in Atlanta

Maddux marvelous, but Braves comeback again

ATLANTA — Greg Maddux couldn’t stop grinning after he lined a single right up the middle off an old friend. John Smoltz got the last laugh, however. Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones came up with two-out, run-scoring hits in the seventh inning, giving Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves a 3-2 win over Maddux’s San Diego Padres on Wednesday night — the first matchup between the longtime teammates since 1992. Smoltz (5-1) gave up homers to Adrian Gonzalez and light-hitting Geoff Blum before leaving for a pinch hitter with the Padres leading 2-1. It looked as though he was destined for a no-decision at best when sidearming Cla Meredith (1-1) retired the first two hitters in the seventh. But Kelly Johnson and Willie Harris kept it going with back-to-back singles, bringing up the heart of the order. Chipper Jones lined the first pitch to the gap in right-center, the ball hopping over the wall for a ground-rule double. Harris, who would have scored easily, was sent back to third to keep the score tied at 2. But Andruw Jones made it a moot point, lining a single to right that brought Harris across the plate again. This time, it counted. Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano pitched one scoreless inning apiece, with Soriano earning his fourth save as the fill-in closer for Bob Wickman. Smoltz and Maddux were teammates in Atlanta for 11 years. This was their first matchup since July 7, 1992, during Maddux’s first stint with the Cubs. Smoltz got the win in a 4-0 shutout at Chicago. Between them, the two pitchers have combined for 533 wins. Maddux has 335 of them while Smoltz closed in on No. 200 with his 198th career victory. The former teammates had plenty of fun with the matchup. As Maddux strolled toward the plate for his first at-bat, Smoltz took off his cap and doffed his bald head toward the box — a clear reference to Maddux saying a day earlier that he had more hair. ‘‘He’s the king of the obvious,’’ Smoltz had quipped, and he made sure everyone at Turner Field saw the gaping dearth of hair atop his head. Maddux got a standing ovation when he stepped into the box from an Atlanta crowd that clearly remembered his long tenure with the Braves, a stint that started with three straight Cy Young Awards in the 1990s when Atlanta had the game’s most envied rotation. Smoltz is the only one still wearing the tomahawk. Tom Glavine now pitches for the New York Mets. Steve Avery retired long ago. And Maddux left after the 2003 season, bouncing from the Chicago Cubs to the Los Angeles Dodgers before landing in San Diego, not far from his Las Vegas home. The cheers for Maddux turned to good-natured boos when he lined the first pitch from Smoltz up the middle for a single. Maddux yukked it up with first base coach Bobby Meachem, and Smoltz didn’t dare look that way. For most of the night, however, this game was nothing personal. Maddux cursed out loud several times, most visibly after he botched a grounder up the middle to give Andruw Jones a gift single. After Jones stole second and moved to third on a grounder, Meredith took over for Maddux. The Padres starter received another standing ovation on his way to the dugout, then watched Meredith work out of the jam. Jeff Francoeur couldn’t get it past the drawn-in defense and Scott Thorman grounded one right back to Meredith, who ran most of the way to first before flipping to Gonzalez for the third out. Maddux gave up four hits and the lone run in 5 1-3 innings. He walked two and struck out four. In seven innings, Smoltz surrendered seven hits and two runs, struck out seven and didn’t walk anyone. A NEW LEREW Anthony Lerew feels like a much different pitcher than the one who came up the Braves late last season. The 24-year-old right-hander gave up five hits, walked three and surrendered five runs during a two-inning stint in 2006, his lone appearance for Atlanta during a year spent mostly in the minors. But Lerew has changed his mechanics and altered his repertoire, allowing him to go six strong innings in his first big league start Tuesday night. He gave up only two runs — both on solo homers — in a 3-2 win over San Diego, making a bid for a permanent spot in the rotation. ‘‘Once they called me up to make a start, I knew if I pitched good that maybe I would get another one,’’ Lerew said. ‘‘And if I can pitch good again, then maybe they’ll make me a regular starter. There was a lot of pressure on me. I wanted to do well.’’ Lerew was once viewed as one of Atlanta’s top pitching prospects, but his stock fell when he went 3-5 with a 7.48 ERA at Triple-A Richmond last year, not to mention that one dismal game with the big club. He also failed to impress during seven relief appearances for the Braves in 2005, giving up nine hits and walking five in eight innings, with a 5.63 ERA. ‘‘It was real tough,’’ Lerew said. ‘‘I couldn’t really figure out what I was doing wrong, but I was leaving everything up. I wasn’t deceiving enough, either. I was opening up (during the windup) and letting the hitters see the ball.’’ During spring training, pitching coach Roger McDowell made Lerew a pet project. The right-hander began swinging his arms during the windup to give himself more rhythm. Also, he dumped the split-finger fastball and added the two-seamer, which is more natural for him to throw. Now, Lerew might be just what the Braves need to shore up the battered back end of their rotation. Mark Redman was 0-4 with a 10.62 ERA when he went on the disabled list, Kyle Davies (0-1) has a 6.41 ERA and Chuck James (3-3) has struggled of late. ‘‘Gosh, did we need that,’’ manager Bobby Cox said. ‘‘It’s a complete transformation from last year. Roger really worked with him, even when he wasn’t on the (big league) roster.’’ RENTERIA SCRATCHED Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria was scratched from the lineup just before the game because of flu-like symptoms. Renteria also sat out Monday’s series opener for the same reason, but returned to play in Tuesday’s game. He was hitting .338 with four homers and 20 RBIs, playing a key role at the top of the batting order. Chris Woodward filled in for Renteria and made an error on the very first hitter, kicking away a grounder by former Brave Marcus Giles. John Smoltz managed to pitch around the mistake. THE OTHER DUGOUT Padres manager Bud Black is trying to figure out ways to perk up the offense. San Diego came into Wednesday’s game hitting just .239. ‘‘We can possibly set some guys in motion on the hit-and-run and create some holes for these guys,’’ Black said. ‘‘Besides that, there’s really nothing we can do besides lend a great deal of moral support and provide them with time in the cage if there’s something mechanical that needs to be worked out.’’ The main thing: ‘‘Saying positive with the guys,’’ he said. ‘‘It takes time to get in a funk and sometimes it takes time to get out of it.’’ Outfielder Mike Cameron is among those who’ve struggled the most, but Black sees signs of hope. ‘‘He’s swinging the bat better. His takes are better. He’s seeing the ball better,’’ the manager said. ‘‘His at-bats are getting better, and I think he’s happy with the way he’s swinging, even though he hasn’t seen results. I think he’s in a good frame of mind.’’

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