- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ATLANTA — The fireworks went off, fans cheered as the video tributes played and then nothing.

And it wasn’t because John Smoltz didn’t get the job done. The Atlanta Braves pitcher was every bit the scowling, stubborn pitcher he always has been. He struck out four Washington Nationals batters in the game’s first three innings, politely waved to fans as they rose to acknowledge his 3,000th career strikeout and had six more strikeouts before he was done.

He just got beat.

If the Nationals were going to stop a three-game losing streak and make somebody else the center of Smoltz’s party, it almost had to be their baby-faced, private school left-hander who throws with the same nerve as the 40-year-old he grew up watching in Long Beach, N.Y. The one who unintentionally drilled Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in his big league debut, got ejected to a chorus of boos from Phillies fans and said he would love to pitch there again. The one who walked into San Francisco’s AT&T; Park in August with Barry Bonds standing on the edge of history and threw his last pitch of the night past him.

John Lannan seems to relish those moments, and he stole another one last night. With seven shutout innings, Lannan handed Smoltz his first loss of the season as the Nationals beat Atlanta 6-0 to split a two-game series.

That was something to watch, manager Manny Acta said. I was telling some of my coaches that we want to win every single night, but with the plan we have here, an outing by this young man like that is worth three or four of those losses I have suffered already.

Smoltz was in control almost from the beginning, throwing a cut fastball that dived under Felipe Lopez’s bat for the second out of the third inning, making him the 16th pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts. He accepted congratulations from Atlanta’s infielders as the Turner Field crowd of 23,482 gave him a raucous ovation. A video tribute played on the stadium scoreboard between the top and bottom of the third, when Smoltz got another standing ovation after grounding out to lead off the inning.

But unlike Lannan’s April 12 outing against the Braves, when he gave up four runs in the first inning and lost to Smoltz, the 23-year-old attacked from the beginning. He relied on a heavy diet of fastballs to start the game, throwing off-speed pitches earlier in counts as the game went on and allowed only two runners to reach second.

I live with my fastball. That’s the only thing that makes me or breaks me, Lannan said. If my fastball’s up, I get hurt. I’ve got to work on locating my fastball and just build on this start.

Fifty-nine of his 95 pitches were strikes, and he left after seven innings with a 1-0 lead. That came courtesy of back-to-back doubles by Lastings Milledge and Willie Harris in the third inning.

And for all their offensive struggles in the last week, the Nationals put together a ninth-inning outburst that made it so Jon Rauch didn’t even enter in a save situation.

Milledge and Harris led off with a double and a walk, Wil Nieves reached on an error and Rob Mackowiak delivered Washington’s fourth pinch hit in two games. By the time Ryan Zimmerman drove in two runners with a double, it was 6-0 and the Nationals had hung a legitimate big inning on their opponents.

Whenever we’re getting guys on base, it’s always a start to something, Harris said. We were able to get some things going, a couple walks, a couple hits, and Rauch closed it out for us.

That iced the first win for Lannan this season and unquestionably the most memorable of his young career.

Tonight he went up against a Hall of Famer, said Harris, who played with Smoltz last season. Lannan’s a bulldog, too. He doesn’t give in to anybody.

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