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Sports

July 27, 2009

Is Smoltz near the end?

Smoltz struggles continue, end may be near for future Hall of Famer

BOSTON — By the third inning, it had become a sad sight for any fan of John Smoltz.

The Boston righty had just allowed his fourth run of the contest, on a rocket double off the bat of Baltimore's Nick Markakis, and nearly the entire 37,606 sellout crowd at Fenway Park erupted in a chorus of boos for the struggling former Atlanta ace.

Smoltz was lit up for six earned runs and nine hits in just five innings yesterday, in Boston's 6-2 loss to the Orioles. It continued a disheartening debut season for the former Cy Young winner with the Red Sox.

The tough performance again raised the question, how much longer will the Red Sox stay with the Smoltz experiment?

"I'm shaking my head," said Smoltz, who fell to 1-4 on the season. "My frustration level is as high as it has ever been. From what I believe I can do. I would walk away from the game right now if I didn't think I could still be successful. I've been in holes before, and I'll get out of this one if I have the opportunity."

The Sox took a chance in signing Smoltz in the offseason. The righty had delivered a Hall-of-Fame career with Atlanta. In 21 big league seasons, Smoltz won 210 games, saved 154 during a stint as the closer and had a 3.26 career ERA. He was named an All-Star eight times, most recently in 2007, and won the NL Cy Young in 1996.

But Smoltz's 2008 season ended after just five starts. He underwent season-ending surgery for a torn labrum last June 10, an injury that has ended the careers of countless young pitchers. And Smoltz was faced with rehabbing at 41 years old (he turned 42 in March).

He opened this season on the disabled list, then made six rehab starts through the Sox minor league system before being activated, and made his first start for the Sox on June 25. But since his arrival in Boston, Smoltz has looked like anything but the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer that earned the reputation as possibly the game's all-time best big-game pitcher.

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