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A mulligan for Smoltz

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 27, 2009 11:48 PM

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I hope you're with me here: I remain just as encouraged about his potential contributions to the Red Sox this season as I was before he toed the rubber, went through that familiar, compact motion, and delivered his first pitch for his new team Thursday night. In stepping in for the ailing Dice-K, who won one of his eight starts, he will be an upgrade even if he is just average. And that's the thing about John Smoltz. Almost never in his MLB career, which began in 1988, has he been anything but exceptional.

A once-over of his stats reinforces how uncommonly impressive his career has been. Beyond the 210 victories and 154 saves -- the numbers that all but ensure his Hall of Fame enshrinement, for he dominated in two diverse and crucial roles unlike any other pitcher in the game's history save for Dennis Eckersley -- are various other figures and factoids that further emphasize his excellence.

Rattling off a few: He has had an ERA over 4.00 once since 1989, a 4.14 ERA in the strike year of 1994. Since then, his highest ERA was 3.49 in 2006 . . . In 1995, he won 24 games, struck out 276 batters in 253.1 innings, and won his only Cy Young Award . . . He has never had an adjusted ERA below 102 since '89, and in 2003, when he had 1.12 ERA and 45 saves, his adjusted ERA was 383 . .. That season, he whiffed 73 while walking 8 . . . He has 15 postseason victories, the most in baseball history, and a 2.65 postseason ERA in 40 games, 27 starts . . . He has just four postseason losses, allowing a total of eight earned runs in 27.1 innings in those defeats (2.63 ERA) . . . and on and on it goes.

Now, I know what the skeptic's take will be on the preceding paragraph: That's history, pal. Smoltz's past has little bearing on what's to come. This is a 42-year-old coming off major shoulder surgery. How can he possibly be counted on? And I hear you to a certain degree. There are legitimate questions. My answer is this: Smoltz is no ordinary reclamation project. This is not Wade Miller. This one of the most versatile and accomplished pitchers in the history of baseball, a postseason hero time and again, a Cy Young-winning starter and a lights-out closer, a phenomenal athlete who has kept himself in peak shape, a bright man who, in his 20+ seasons, has probably learned a trick or two to get the job done when he left his best stuff in the bullpen.

If you don't take a chance on someone like this, then you must not ever take chances at all. And that's no way to live, son.

Even after his so-so first start, my perspective isn't altered. He's here for October, and the Red Sox -- who are pretty damn impressive at it is --will be an even better team for having him on the roster.

Yeah, John Smoltz's first start was a letdown. But I saw enough to say this: I sure am looking forward to his second.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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