A 6’3”, 185 pound, 21 year old walked to the mound on June 23rd 1988 to pitch against the Atlanta Braves rival New York Mets. This pitcher had never thrown a ball at the major league level prior to this outing but on this afternoon he looked like an all-star. He would go eight complete innings, giving up only one earned run versus the 58-38 Mets.
The Detroit Tigers drafted John Smoltz out of high school with the 574th selection in the 22nd round of the 1985 draft. He would spend the 1986 and 1987 struggling through opponents going 11-19 with a combined 4.65 ERA. Then, in 1988 he began to find his groove in the minors and Smoltz went 10-5 with an ERA of 2.79 in AAA. Becoming one of the Tigers top prospects because of his hard throwing fastball and great off speed curveball. But as the season went on, Detroit was in a heated divisional battle and decided they needed major league level pitching right away.
The Atlanta Braves would fit Detroit’s needs by giving the Tigers proven winner Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz. Doyle would go on for the Tigers that year to record a 9-0 win/loss with a 1.53 ERA but fell apart in the post-season. The Braves would eventually get the most from this trade.
At 2:30 in the afternoon on this Saturday, John Smoltz would start his hall of fame career with the Atlanta Braves. Smoltz would be facing the talented Mets team who would become the NL East champions this season. The game would be played in New York and they would feature in their lineup Lenny Dykstra, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry. The Braves, 33-62, seemed to be over matched heading into this game.
What the league didn’t realize at the time was what they would witness on the mound, a pitcher that would shape into a 21 year career that included eight All-Star games, the 1992 NLCS MVP and 1996 NL Cy Young Award.
On this day, Smoltz would start off with a little bump in the road. The first batter he would face, Dykstra, he hit with the second pitch thrown. Then Dykstra would steal 2nd base off Somltz before he got the first out of the inning from Wally Backman. With one out in the first, Dave Magadan would smack a double, scoring Dykstra from 2nd. After that, Smoltz would settle down and get two quick outs to get out of the inning. The Mets would then only get 3 more hits off the first starter pitcher. He would only record 2 strikeouts but he got 21 fly ball outs. Smotlz would stay in the game eight innings and pick up the “W”.
During the completion of the 1988 season, Smoltz would only get one more win. But having a career that was filled with 213 wins, the first one on June 23rd 1988 is surely memorable.