Renteria's dual homers save the Braves' day

The Atlanta shortstop's blasts in the 8th and 10th innings raise doubts anew about the Phils' bullpen.

Posted: April 03, 2007

With two late-inning swings yesterday, Atlanta Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria saved John Smoltz from a disheartening loss, ruined a superb outing by Brett Myers, and revisited a hot spring topic: Is the Phillies' bullpen strong enough to win the National League East?

Renteria slammed a game-tying homer off Myers in the eighth, then swatted what proved to be the game-winner - a two-run shot off Ryan Madson - in the 10th as the Braves outlasted the Phillies, 5-3, in the season opener at sun-splashed Citizens Bank Park.

"Edgar hit line drives all spring and it carried over," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "He's Mr. Consistency."

Before Renteria's eruption, the Phillies had erased a 2-0 deficit and taken a 3-2 lead against the still-trim Smoltz, a 39-year-old righthander with Hall of Fame credentials. Smoltz is approaching 200 career wins and is only the second pitcher in major-league history to notch at least 150 victories and 150 saves.

Yet there is an accomplishment that has eluded him in his 20-season career: a win in one of his opening-game starts.

Smoltz, 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in his three previous opening-game starts, looked as if he was going to end the drought until the Phillies - with a huge assist from Atlanta second baseman Kelly Johnson, who lost a pop-up in the sun - rallied to take a 3-2 lead with two runs in the sixth.

Fast-forward to the eighth. Two outs. No runners aboard. The sellout crowd standing and rocking the ballyard as Myers got ahead of Renteria, 0-2, with breaking pitches.

Myers threw a fastball - "I'd throw it again," he said - but he wanted it outside, not down the middle.

"I was looking for a fastball. I'm always looking for a fastball," Renteria, a five-time all-star, said with a smile.

He rocketed the pitch halfway up the brick wall beyond the fence in center. Tie game, 3-3.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game and I got lucky and battled him," Renteria said modestly. "He's a nasty pitcher."

Renteria's failure to put down a sacrifice bunt led to his two-run homer in the 10th against Madson. Johnson walked to open the inning, and Renteria twice fouled off bunt attempts before hitting a 2-2 pitch that was last seen heading toward Gloucester City.

"I felt bad for my team," Renteria said of his failed bunts.

He stepped out of the batter's box and took a breath.

"I was just trying to put the ball in play," he said of his two-run homer. "Sometimes you try to hit a ground ball and the ball goes out."

It marked the sixth time in his career that Renteria, 31, had hit two homers in a game. He has never hit more than 16 homers in a season, so no one expects him to continue his 324-homer pace.

"That's not my game," he said. "Hitting line drives, fielding, putting the ball in play: That's my game. . . . This is a good hitting park. Maybe that's why I got lucky and hit two."

Renteria's two homers, which equaled a career high, overshadowed the fact that four Atlanta relievers - Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Bob Wickman and Chad Paronto - combined to pitch four scoreless innings and allow just two hits.

"We don't have the offensive punch up and down the lineup like we had last year," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said, "and the pitching staff is going to have to keep us in games."

"Pitching-wise, we have to create an aura again," Smoltz said.

Or unleash Renteria.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi

at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

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