June 04, 2008

Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who notched his 3,000th career strikeout earlier this year, will have season-ending shoulder surgery that may well end his career, SI.com has confirmed. The 41-year-old Smoltz will not retire, saying at a late morning press conference, "I've pulled off a lot of miracles. I'm a blessed man. I look forward to seeing if I can do it again."

Smoltz, with 210 wins and 154 career saves in a 20-year career, spent more than four weeks on the disabled list earlier this year with shoulder discomfort. He reappeared as a closer in Monday night's game against the Marlins -- a role he hadn't been in since the end of the 2004 season -- but blew the save, giving up three hits and two runs in an inning.

The right-handed Smoltz has struggled with injuries throughout his career. He has had four separate elbow surgeries, including so-called "Tommy John" ligament replacement, and it has been expected that another surgery would spell the end of his career. Many speculated that this may be the last season for Smoltz, teammate Tom Glavine and former teammate Greg Maddux, now with the Padres. The three were the backbone of a Braves' staff that dominated the National League from the early 1990s until Glavine left to pitch for the rival Mets in 2003. Glavine returned to the Braves this season.

If this is it for Smoltz, he will retire with a Hall of Fame resume. He is the only pitcher in history with at least 200 wins and at least 150 saves. In April, he became only the 16th pitcher in history to notch 3,000 strikeouts. He was the NL Cy Young Award winner in 1996, with a 24-8 record and a 2.94 ERA. When injuries forced him miss the entire 2000 season and most of 2001, he re-emerged as a dominant closer in 2002, saving 55 games. In 2005, against the advice of many, Smoltz re-invented himself again, returning to a starter's role. From '05 through the beginning of this season, Smoltz went 47-26 with a 3.18 ERA, putting in more than 222 innings a year for those first three years.

The shoulder injury, though, forced him to the sidelines, where he worked on a three-quarters delivery to try to alleviate the pain. After his Monday blowup, though, Cox said Tuesday that Smoltz was "pretty sore."

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