If they were cars, John Smoltz would have been the gas-guzzling SUV while Matt Clement would have been the economical, efficient, precision driving machine.
Smoltz couldn't get out of the fifth inning yesterday because his pitch count rose to 112 after allowing the Red Sox two runs in the inning. Clement limited the Braves to two runs on four hits in the Sox' first complete game of the season, a 5-2 win over Atlanta at Fenway Park.
In 4 1/3 more innings, Clement threw two fewer pitches in beating Smoltz, whom he called a future Hall of Famer. Clement credited the Boston hitters in raising Smoltz's pitch count, even though for most of Smoltz's work the Sox were leaving runners on base.
''I kept looking at Smoltzie's pitch count and I was amazed at how [the Sox' hitters] did it," said Clement, who improved his record to 5-0 as his ERA dipped to 3.34. ''Give our guys credit. He had a lot of strikes, he wasn't walking people [Smoltz walked three], and he got his pitch count up quick and that's what won the game. He didn't break. He kept bending, and it was an honor for me to share the mound with somebody like that. He does the job on and off the field. He's the kind of person you want to look up to."
Smoltz's innings had pitch counts of 27, 24, 22, 9, and 30. Sox hitters fouled off pitches 25 times.
''I'm disappointed that I had to throw as many pitches as I did to get that far into the game," Smoltz said. ''They lead the league in pitches per at-bat. I guess that's a credit to their lineup."
Clement had 15 or fewer pitches in eight of his nine innings. Only in the fourth, when he threw 24 pitches as the Braves scored twice, did Clement exceed that number.
''Efficient usually doesn't get put next to my name," Clement said. ''I don't think everything was perfect, but everything worked. I made pitches when I had to. I was getting ahead."
The Sox took two out of three from the Braves in the first phase of interleague play. It was the first win by the Sox over the Braves in six Fenway series.
Atlanta's pitchers threw 175 pitches and the Sox crushed 14 hits, led by Bill Mueller's three-hit day, while Manny Ramirez went 3 for 5 with a two-run homer to break out of a 2-for-19 (.105) funk. Ramirez's homer, which traveled to the Braves' bullpen in right field, was his 11th and produced RBIs Nos. 37 and 38.
But the wearing down of Smoltz took place much earlier.
In his 27-pitch first inning, Edgar Renteria, who went 0 for 4, worked Smoltz for a nine-pitch walk. That was followed by David Ortiz's single to right field, sending Renteria to third. But the Sox squandered a good opportunity as Ramirez and Trot Nixon made outs. The Sox made Smoltz work again in the second, but Renteria left the bases loaded with a strikeout (to a roar of boos from the restless Fenway crowd).
''We just did what we usually do around here, make the pitcher work for everything he got," said Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, whose single to left in the fifth on a 2-2 pitch after fouling off three straight Smoltz offerings scored Ortiz with the first Boston run. ''Our lineup can wear you down. We have hitters with good eyes at the plate. You're not going to get us to swing at everything. Today that worked well for us later in the game."
Clement mowed down the first nine batters he faced, but the Braves got to him in the fourth when he allowed a leadoff double to Rafael Furcal, who eventually scored on Marcus Giles's single to center. Clement momentarily lost his calm, hitting Adam LaRoche and allowing a single to Andruw Jones to load the bases. Catcher Johnny Estrada hit a sacrifice fly, accounting for the second Braves' run. But Clement started a streak of 14 straight outs before Pete Orr led off the ninth with a single.
''I had the rocky fourth inning and it was the same spot as the last game [a 7-5 win over Oakland May 17]," said Clement, who reacted angrily when manager Terry Francona took the ball from him in the sixth in Oakland but this time made sure the thought never crossed his manager's mind. ''The Lord puts you in situations you learn from, and I'm thankful that I was able to learn what I was doing last time [and] get myself through and catch that second wind and run with it."
In the fifth, Ortiz worked a walk and Nixon reached when third baseman Wilson Betemit bobbled his soft one-hopper near the bag. In between, Ramirez had an eight-pitch at-bat that concluded with a fly to right. After Jason Varitek grounded into a fielder's choice, Youkilis hit his RBI single to left, and Mueller followed with a single to center, scoring Varitek and ending Smoltz's day.
''It was a battle," said Smoltz. ''I was probably one pitch away from giving up six runs and one pitch away from giving up zero runs."
By the sixth, the Sox' offense was now drawing blood rather than delivering body punches. Ortiz's double to left knocked in Johnny Damon, who had singled to lead off the inning off Roman Colon. Then Ramirez delivered his two-run shot to right, a sign that his swing is finally getting right.
''It all came down to Manny," Smoltz said. ''He's a professional hitter and he got us today."
Well, they all got the Braves yesterday. Even hitters like Renteria, who continued his dismal start but somehow kept swinging and causing Smoltz to work his way out of the game.