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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 7, 2009 at 1:22 PM

Smoltz appears to be at end of the line

smoltz.jpg

HOW’S THAT FOR TIMING? I POSTED THIS AND TOOK OFF FOR SAFECO. AFTER BATTLING A LITTLE I-90 TRAFFIC, I FIRED UP THE COMPUTER AND FOUND OUT SMOLTZ HAD BEEN DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT. I’LL ALWAYS HAVE A FOND SPOT FOR SMOLTZ FOR HIS ROLE IN ONE OF THE MOST THRILLING GAMES I EVER COVERED, GAME 7 OF THE 1991 WORLD SERIES, THE FABLED SMOLTZ-JACK MORRIS DUEL.

There’s lots of heat in Boston on struggling John Smoltz, and lots of speculation that he’s contemplating retirement. It’s possible the Red Sox could release him, or perhaps he will land back on the disabled list.

When they signed Smoltz, who was coming off shoulder surgery, the Red Sox had visions of the 42-year-old rising up in October to help lead them to a World Series title. Smoltz is unquestionably one of the greatest postseason pitchers in history with his 15-4 record and 2.65 ERA.

But to get to October, you have to show something in July and August, and Smoltz has been, frankly, bad. After getting belted for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings last night in a key start against the Yankees, he has an 8.33 ERA in eight starts.

You have to wonder if Smoltz regrets trying for a comeback this year. As it turns out, if he had hung it up, then the Braves’ “Big Three” of Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine could have gone into the Hall of Fame together in five years, a scenario of which Atlanta fans have long dreamed.

Maddux retired after last season. Glavine didn’t, but the Braves made the decision for him in early June by cutting him. Glavine pitched in the minors this year, trying to come back from elbow and shoulder surgery, but because he didn’t pitch in the majors his Cooperstown clock started at the end of last year, same as Maddux’s. That’s provided no one else picks up Glavine this year, but there’s not a big market for 43 year old pitchers coming off arm surgeries — and a 5.54 ERA in 2008. Even those with 305 career victories and two Cy Young Awards.

Smoltz could have made it the magic trifecta, but he wanted to keep pitching. Hard to blame him for that, but no matter what happens, it looks like he’ll be going into the Hall of Fame at least a year after his buddies. That’s provided Glavine doesn’t do something goofy like try a comeback next year. Maddux (with 355 victories) and Glavine are first-ballot no-brainers, in my mind.

And yes, I have little doubt that Smoltz will make it with his 212-152 record (.582 win percentage), his postseason success, his 154 saves (including what was then a National League record 55 in 2002), and 3,044 strikeouts (16th all-time).

But, sadly, that’s not the same pitcher that’s taken the mound in Boston this year.

(Photo by Getty Images).

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