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Smoltz Is Prepared for Changes

October 03, 2003|From Times Wire Services

Pitcher John Smoltz has seen dozens of alterations to the Atlanta roster during more than 15 years with the team. None will compare to what will happen if this year's club again fails to win the World Series, he said.

"There is absolutely 100% across the board understanding that this could probably be it," Smoltz said. "If we do not win it all, this team is going to change greater than it has ever changed."

With only one World Series title during the team's record run of 12 straight playoff appearances, Smoltz said time and patience might finally be running out.

"I don't think anyone holds up the divisional titles as the goal from spring training," Smoltz said. Atlanta's 5-3 win Wednesday tied the best-of-five division series against the Cubs at a game each. Game 3 is scheduled for today in Chicago.

General Manager John Schuerholz, who makes roster decisions along with team President Stan Kasten, said he isn't ready to discuss the issue.

"We're not making those decisions yet," Schuerholz said. "We're trying to win a division series. We'll get into that this off-season."

With four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, outfielder Gary Sheffield and catcher Javier Lopez set to become free agents after the season, the team's roster might be drastically different in 2004.

The Braves made some changes aimed at saving money last season. They allowed two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine to join the New York Mets as a free agent and traded pitcher Kevin Millwood to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Schuerholz said the moves saved $18 million to $20 million. Atlanta started the season with a $104.6-million payroll.

Manager Bobby Cox, who has guided the team since its string of postseason appearances began in 1991, said he has heard the debate before and doesn't agree with Smoltz's assessment.

"I don't think so," said Cox, whose 62 postseason victories are the most of any manager in baseball history. "They have been saying that for two or three years now, and we've been able to come right back."

Cox's 58 postseason losses are also the most of any manager in history, making him an annual target for critics.

Smoltz's desire to win was evident in a meeting the team had before the playoffs began, said pitcher Mike Hampton, who joined the Braves before the season.

"I know where he's coming from," Hampton said. "The biggest thing for him is for us to lay it all on the line. Who knows who is going to be here next year, and if we're ever going to have this chance to play together again and win."


Cox said he still hasn't decided who will pitch Game 4 on Saturday.

Rookie Horacio Ramirez is ready to go, but Cox is still thinking about bringing back Russ Ortiz on three days' rest. Ortiz, a 21-game winner in the regular season, took the loss in the opener.

"We haven't come to a conclusion of what we are going to do," Cox said.


Cub closer Joe Borowski gives the New York Yankees some credit for his calm on the mound in Game 1, when he earned his first postseason save.

Borowski said his adrenaline was "over the top" when he pitched against the Yankees at Wrigley Field in June.

"I actually learned from it," Borowski said. "From that point on, I was able to control [my adrenaline] instead of it controlling me. It became an asset instead of a liability for me."

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