Smoltz shaky early in BoSox loss to Nats

BY foxsports • June 26, 2009

Time "absolutely stood still" for John Smoltz as game time approached.

He sped through his warmup faster than planned. His phone was overflowing with 71 text messages. Try as he might to downplay his Boston Red Sox debut - a 9-3 loss to Washington on Thursday night - there was no way he could avoid the magnitude of the moment.

"This was bigger than one start," he said.

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It was hardly surprising, therefore, to see the 42-year-old right-hander have an anxious beginning and a solid finish in his first major league game in more than a year. Pitching in an American League jersey for the first time, Smoltz allowed four runs in the first inning and fanned the last three batters he faced in the fifth.

Despite the final score, the reviews were positive all around in the latest comeback for the pitcher with 210 wins and 154 saves.

"Most of the time when the linescore is the way it is, I'm going to be very disappointed, but I really can't at this point," Smoltz said. "I lost a little rhythm there in the first inning ... but very encouraged with how good I can be and the way I felt and the stamina and everything going forward."

Smoltz (0-1), who spent his previous 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, needed 34 pitches to get through the first inning, when the Nationals hit him hard by pulling pitches high in the strike zone. He settled down after that, giving up a run in the third but retiring the side in order in the second, fourth and fifth. His final line: five innings, seven hits, five runs, one walk, one hit batter and five strikeouts in 92 pitches.

"I was excited," manager Terry Francona said. "I know it was a tough game, but if he throws the ball like that, if he feels like that physically, he's going to be just fine."

Smoltz's two decades in Atlanta essentially came to an end last June, when he had surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. The Braves didn't re-sign him when he became a free agent at the end of the season, so he joined the Red Sox with a one-year deal and made the last of his six rehab starts last week before coming off the disabled list to start Thursday's game.

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