June 3, 2001: John Smoltz continues comeback as Braves sweep doubleheader in Pittsburgh for first time since 1961

This article was written by Madison McEntire

John SmoltzAfter graduating from Waverly High School in Lansing, Michigan, John Smoltz was selected in the 22nd round of the June 1985 amateur draft by his favorite team, the Detroit Tigers.

But Smoltz never took the mound for Detroit. On August 12, 1987, in the midst of a tight American League East race, the Tigers dealt the 20-year-old right-hander – who had a 4-10 record and 5.68 ERA in Double A – to the Atlanta Braves for 36-year-old veteran Doyle Alexander.

The trade paid instant dividends for the Tigers when Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts over the last six weeks of the season,1 as Detroit edged the Blue Jays by two games for the division crown.2

The long-term benefit, however, went to Atlanta, where Smoltz debuted in 1988 and became a mainstay on a championship team.3 From 1991 through 1999, the Braves won eight division titles, five National League pennants, and one World Series. Smoltz racked up a 157-113 lifetime record through 1999, with 12 postseason wins, four All-Star selections, and the 1996 NL Cy Young Award.

Atlanta won its ninth consecutive division title in 2000, but reconstructive elbow surgery cost Smoltz the entire season. Returning to a major-league mound on May 17, 2001, the 34-year-old Smoltz allowed eight earned runs in his first two starts – both losses – but pitched well in his third start, yielding two earned runs in 6⅔ innings against the Montreal Expos.

Smoltz made the fourth start of his comeback in the second game of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 3. The Braves had arrived in Pittsburgh with a 26-26 record and in second place in the NL East, eight games behind the first-place Philadelphia Phillies. It was the furthest from first the Braves had been since August 13, 1993,4 putting their streak of consecutive division titles – the first three in the NL West and six more after their move to the NL East – in jeopardy.

Pittsburgh, playing its first season in PNC Park, was 17-35 and 15 games back of the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The Pirates had won just five of their last 23 games.

Behind seven strong innings from Pittsburgh-area native John Burkett, Atlanta took the first game of the series, 5-1, on June 1. The next day’s game was postponed by rain, prompting a Sunday afternoon doubleheader.

Tom Glavine, Smoltz’s longtime rotation-mate, drew the start for the Braves in the opener. After suffering a thumb injury in the fourth inning, Glavine left after 5⅔ innings, having allowed four earned runs on 10 hits and three walks, but Atlanta pounded out 18 hits and won, 11-7.

By the seventh inning of the Pirates’ dismal showing, a majority of the crowd of 36,924 had reached the exits and were crossing the Clemente Bridge beyond the center-field stands, leaving just a few thousand for the start of the second game.5

While the Braves staff featured future Hall of Famers Smoltz, Glavine, and Greg Maddux, the Pirates’ pitching was a disaster. With starters Kris Benson and Francisco Cordova lost for the season and Jason Schmidt sidelined until mid-May,6 Pittsburgh’s injury-plagued starting rotation had a record of 9-27 – the lowest win total in the major leagues – and the team ERA was 5.35, the worst in the NL.7

After Game 1 starter Omar Olivares allowed six earned runs in 2⅓ innings, first-year Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon tabbed 25-year-old left-hander Jimmy Anderson – one of his more dependable starters with a 3-4 record and 3.84 ERA in 11 starts8 – to start Game 2.9

Anderson set the Braves down in order on three grounders in the first, but Chipper Jones lined a double to right-center to start the second inning. One out later, Jones scored when Javy López singled up the middle.

Atlanta increased its lead to 4-0 in the third. Quilvio Veras singled with one out and went to third on a single by Rafael Furcal. After Furcal stole second, Andruw Jones – who had homered in the opener – was intentionally walked to load the bases. Chipper Jones’s sacrifice fly to short right field scored Veras. A double steal put Furcal and Andruw Jones at second and third; they scored on Brian Jordan’s double to deep center.

Bernard Gilkey greeted Anderson with a home run to begin the fourth. Wes Helms followed with a double down the right-field line and scored on Veras’s one-out single. Veras advanced to third on Furcal’s single to right and scored when Andruw Jones’s grounder forced Furcal at second. The Braves’ lead had swelled to 7-0.

Smoltz cruised through the first two innings, allowing just a single to John Vander Wal. In the third, he walked Abraham Nuñez and catcher López committed a throwing error on Anderson’s bunt to put runners at the corners with no outs. The Pirates had the top of the order up, but Smoltz escaped by striking out Jason Kendall and getting Vander Wal to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play.

Pittsburgh got on the board when Aramis Ramírez homered on a full-count pitch in the bottom of the fourth.

After Anderson pitched a perfect fifth, Pittsburgh cut the lead to 7-2. Craig Wilson led off with a double; he went to third on Nuñez’s groundout and scored on pinch-hitter Enrique Wilson’s grounder to first.

José Silva came out of the Pirates bullpen to pitch the sixth inning. Despite a 6.68 ERA, he had appeared in relief in 25 of Pittsburgh’s first 53 games. Silva worked around Helms’ leadoff single but would not be so lucky the next inning.

Leading off the seventh, Andruw Jones smashed a full-count pitch back up the middle that struck Silva just below the left knee, shattering his tibia. The break could be heard in the bullpen and the press box.10

Silva dropped to the ground, writhing in pain. He was carried off the field on a stretcher and missed the remainder of the season.11

Leaving the clubhouse on crutches with his leg in a cast from ankle to thigh,12 Silva said, “When I reached down for it, it hit me before I could get my glove on it. The pain was very intense. It hurt so bad I was shaking.”13

Scott Sauerbeck replaced his injured teammate. After striking out Chipper Jones, he got Jordan to force Andruw Jones at second. López walked, advancing Jordan to second. Gilkey singled to right to score Jordan and give Atlanta an 8-2 lead.

Smoltz allowed a leadoff single in the sixth to Vander Wal, but was erased when Brian Giles hit into a 3-6-3 double play. Smoltz retired the next four batters and left after seven innings, having allowed two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out four.

After Sauerbeck worked around two walks and a wild pitch in the eighth, Pittsburgh had one last rally against Atlanta reliever José Cabrera.

Nuñez singled and pinch-hitter John Wehner walked. Kendall singled to fill the bases. Vander Wal bounced back to the mound; Cabrera fired to the plate. But López dropped the throw, allowing Nuñez to score.

With the score 8-3 and the bases still loaded with no outs, Cabrera retired the dangerous Giles on a fly to short right and got Ramírez – who hit 34 homers and drove in 112 runs in a breakout 2001 – to bounce into a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat. Cabrera then closed out the Braves’ win with a perfect ninth.

McClendon was so displeased with his team’s performance that he scheduled an offday workout before they flew to Florida to begin a nine-game road trip.14

“We just haven’t had that combination of good pitching with timely hitting,” he said. “We’re starting to come around offensively and the pitching goes bad again. We have to figure out a way to try and get it going together.”15

The doubleheader sweep16 was the Braves’ first in Pittsburgh since July 23, 1961, when they called Milwaukee home and visited the Pirates at Forbes Field.

After throwing a season-high 94 pitches, Smoltz was pleased: “I’m pleasantly surprised. Each time I’ve gone a little farther, throwing some more pitches, testing my arm a little more and extending it out. I think I’m starting to get to where I envisioned I could get.”17

“With the exception of one pitch [to Ramírez] that came back over the plate, again I improved in a lot of areas. That’s all I can ask for,” he added.18

Six days later, Smoltz made his last start of the season, allowing four runs on six hits in just three innings. After a stint on the disabled list,19 he returned in late July and worked exclusively out of the bullpen, earning 10 saves in 31 relief appearances to help Atlanta win its 10th consecutive division championship.

In 2002 Smoltz became Atlanta’s closer and saved 144 games over the next three seasons before returning to a starting role in 2005.20 After 20 years with Atlanta, he spent his last season with Boston and St. Louis in 2009, retiring with a record of 213-155 and 154 saves.


Author’s Note

 The author was in town for a conference starting the following day. He attended this game as well as the first game of the doubleheader. The previous night during the rainstorm before the Braves-Pirates game, he sat in the dry and watched the replay of Pittsburgh’s Game Seven win over the Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series on the PNC Park scoreboard. Shortly after the conclusion of the broadcast, the scheduled game was officially canceled, setting up the June 3 doubleheader.

June 3, 2001 game ticket (Madison McEntire)



 This article was fact-checked by Ray Danner and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the references cited in the Notes, the author consulted data from Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet:





1 At the time of the trade, Alexander was just 5-10 with a 4.13 ERA for Atlanta. Two years after the trade, Alexander led the American League with 18 losses in his final major-league season.

2 Detroit won three consecutive one-run games against Toronto to end the season at 98-64 and edge Toronto.

3 Smoltz debuted on July 23 against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. He allowed one run over eight innings and earned the win.

4 In 1993 the Braves trailed the San Francisco Giants by 8½ games in the NL West race on August 13; Atlanta’s deficit had been 10 games on July 22. From July 23 onward, the Braves won 49 of their final 65 games and clinched the division title on the final day of the season.

5 Robert Dvorchak, “Breaking Point,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 4, 2001: B1.

6 Robert Dvorchak, “Season in the Gutter,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 14, 2001: D3.

7 Dvorchak, “Breaking Point.”

8 Anderson finished the season 9-17 with a 5.10 ERA.

9 During the intermission between games, TBS was given permission to televise the second game even though it didn’t start until 5:19 P.M. EST. Under MLB’s agreement with ESPN, no club could begin a Sunday game at 5:00 P.M. EST, giving ESPN exclusive rights to Sunday night games. Thomas Stinson, “Bruised Thumb Hampers Glavine,” Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 2001: D5.

10 Dvorchak, “Breaking Point.”

11 Silva was no stranger to injury. In 1994 he was in an automobile accident that fractured his jaw, nose, and both eye orbits. Attempting to bunt in 1998, he missed almost three months when his right forearm was fractured by a pitch. In spring training in 1999, he was hit in the face by a batted ball while pitching batting practice. Associated Press, “Silva Suffers Broken Leg,” Latrobe (Pennsylvania) Bulletin, June 4, 2001: 6.

12 Dvorchak, “Breaking Point.”

13 Associated Press, “Silva Suffers Broken Leg.”

14 Associated Press, “Silva Suffers Broken Leg.”

15 Associated Press, “Silva Suffers Broken Leg.”

16 Coming into the game, Pittsburgh had been 3-0 in Sunday home games.

17 Associated Press, “Braves, Smoltz in Sweep of Bucs,” Latrobe (Pennsylvania) Bulletin, June 4, 2001: 6.

18 Thomas Stinson, “It’s as Easy as 1-2-3,” Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 2001: D1.

19 Tom Saladino (Associated Press), “Elbow Shelves Smoltz Again.”

20 Smoltz led the NL in wins in 1996 and 2006 and in saves in 2002. Since saves became on official statistic in 1969, he is the only pitcher to lead the league in both categories.

Additional Stats

Atlanta Braves 8
Pittsburgh Pirates 3
Game 2, DH

PNC Park
Pittsburgh, PA


Box Score + PBP:

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2000s ·