- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

Washington fans, watch John Smoltz closely Thursday night when he makes his first start in a Boston Red Sox uniform. He is the last dinosaur, the one surviving member of a species that dominated the pitching mounds of major league fields for more than 20 years.

Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux - as lyrical and historic a trio as Tinkers, Evers and Chance - should go down in baseball lore as well because when Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were the identity of the Atlanta Braves from 1993 to 2003, they were the class of the game.

We may never again see the likes of three pitchers together for so long and so dominant on a pitching staff like Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine, who over their entire careers - 10 years of which were together in Atlanta - won 870 games and seven Cy Young Awards.

Smoltz, 42, making his first start for the Red Sox on Thursday night at Nationals Park in the series finale after shoulder surgery, doesn’t believe baseball will ever have three dominant pitchers together on the same roster for as long as he, Maddux and Glavine were in Atlanta.

“The short answer is no,” Smoltz said while standing in front of his locker in the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park, with his Red Sox jersey - the first major league jersey he will have worn besides the Braves - hanging behind him. “There is too much that goes into the dynamics of it. There is luck, and there is the team’s willingness to want to keep it together.”

It is almost impossible to think of the financial commitment today for one team to keep three such quality pitchers on the same roster for 10 years. The Nationals like to tout their talented young starters like Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann, and they have the intention of adding super prospect Stephen Strasburg to the group. But could you imagine if those three blossomed as Smoltz and Glavine did as young pitchers with Atlanta before Maddux joined as a free agent in 1993? You would be fortunate to hang on to any one of those pitchers today for that long of a period.

Smoltz, remarkably, pitched 20 years in a Braves uniform as a starter and a closer with a 210-147 record and 154 saves before signing as a free agent with Boston this winter.

Nationals manager Manny Acta doesn’t see such a run happening anywhere else.

“It will be as tough as what [Atlanta manager Bobby Cox] did,” Acta said. “That is why I consider Bobby to be the John Wooden of baseball. It’s going to be really tough to win 14 titles, and it will be tough to find three guys like Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux. It could be done, but I don’t know if we will be alive to see it. You could have three guys with as good as stuff or better, but to have the success that they had, too? I don’t see it happening.”

The man who had a front-row seat for it - who helped orchestrate it - is Nationals president Stan Kasten, who held the same position with the Braves during the Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux glory years. He saw that what made it special was not just the talent, but the bond the three pitchers had off the field as well.

“They were three extraordinarily competitive guys who grew up together,” Kasten said. “It was the two forces, close friendships and competitiveness, that made them special, all pulling for and pushing each other to do better. We had three Cy Young winners on one staff. That is unbelievable. You can go on and on with the superlatives for those three guys. It is pretty remarkable.”

Maddux called it quits last season after a 2-4 record in seven starts with the Dodgers. The end may have come for Glavine when the Braves released him several weeks ago as he was ready to be activated after a rehab assignment. Smoltz is still convinced, though, that the end is not here for him, after going 3-2 in just six starts last season for Atlanta before undergoing shoulder surgery in June.

“I have enough pitches to get hitters out,” Smoltz said. “The stuff everyone keeps talking about might be different, but the ability to pitch and get guys out will still be the same.

“This is not the old, the new or the done,” he said. “This is just a new chapter. When I have a baseball in my hand, I feel like I can make a pitch and do the things that I have to do to hopefully take the sting out of the bat. … It ain’t about stories, it ain’t about saying I can do it again. It is about pitching and getting hitters out. The end result will be that; and three, four, five starts from now, I think you will see why I feel the way I do.”

Still, this may be the last season for the last dinosaur. If it is, fans can take solace in the fact that just as the trio stood out for their greatness during the steroid era, they will eventually do the same in Cooperstown, overshadowing the absence of the era of the disgraced sluggers, where they will be together again.

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