NEW YORK -- The pitching matchup was too good to be true. The winningest pitcher in the National League took on the winningest pitcher in the American League in the first game of the 92nd World Series, which figured to make for a very suspenseful evening at Yankee Stadium.
Atlanta Braves right-hander John Smoltz held up his end, carrying a no-hit bid into the fifth inning last night, but Yankees 21-game winner Andy Pettitte wilted under an early-inning offensive barrage that turned Game 1 into a Bronx bummer.
"You're usually going to see [good] pitching like that from their side and our side," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, "but we weren't hitting our spots. We didn't pitch our game."
Pettitte, who had held an injury-ridden Yankees rotation together during the regular season, gave up a two-run home run to 19-year-old Andruw Jones in the second inning and came unglued in the third. The Braves knocked him out of the game by batting around for six runs, turned the sellout crowd of 56,365 deadly quiet and assured Atlanta of a split of the first two games in New York.
"It's beyond me what happened out there," said Pettitte, who lasted 2 1/3 innings and gave up seven earned runs. "It's just real frustrating. We knew it was going to be a tough game against John. I felt like [our] guys were battling, making him throw a bunch of pitches. That was exactly what we wanted to do, get into their bullpen, but I didn't do much to help."
Smoltz would not give up his first hit until an hour after Pettitte left the game. He also struggled with his control at the outset -- walking four batters the first time through the Yankees' order -- but settled down to retire nine straight before giving up a two-out walk to Derek Jeter and an RBI double to Wade Boggs in the fifth.
He was a long way from the second no-hitter in World Series history, but he obviously knew the situation when he threw a full-count breaking ball to Jeter with the bases empty in a 9-0 game. Smoltz is a veteran pitcher who seldom throws anything but fastballs and sliders when he has a big lead, so the fact that he chose not to challenge Jeter made it clear that he was aware of his chance to make history.
Boggs made it academic when he drove a fly ball over the head of center fielder Marquis Grissom to end the no-hit bid and the shutout. Smoltz might have taken the no-hit bid further if Grissom had not been playing Boggs in shallow center, but it was no time to second-guess the veteran outfielder. Grissom's positioning had turned an apparent base hit by Paul O'Neill into a routine lineout the inning before.
Torre's worst fears were realized last night. The Yankees' pitching staff had been forced to sit around for a full week after defeating the Orioles in five games in the American League Championship Series.
Pettitte was pitching on six days' rest and it showed. He walked only one batter, but he fell behind in the count several times and forced himself into fastball situations against a great fastball-hitting team.
"You've got to be on top of your game against a team like that," Pettitte said. "I wasn't really getting ahead of anybody. It seemed like I was 2-0 to a lot of guys. You can't do that. Obviously, they have a lot of hitters who can gear up for the fastball."
The Yankees can only hope that left-hander Jimmy Key adapts better tonight, or the Braves will be in great position to make short work of the best-of-seven series in Atlanta.
The Braves, by virtue of their late comeback in the National League Championship Series, were able to take advantage of Saturday's rainout to keep their starters in a fairly normal routine. Smoltz was working on just one extra day and adjusted quickly to his early control problems. Pettitte wasn't so fortunate, but Torre refused to lay any blame to the layoff.
"That's an excuse," Torre said. "Andy was sharper last Sunday, but who knows. They were better than we were tonight. Let's leave it at that."
Pub Date: 10/21/96