This one was different, however. After saving 154 games from 2001-04, Smoltz again is a starter, and proved he can still go nine innings in the Braves' 5-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday.
Smoltz pitched his first complete game in six years, giving up five hits and three walks with four strikeouts.
"I'm sure I don't know how many people thought I would pitch a complete game this year or pitch 200 innings," Smoltz said.
Smoltz was referring to those who thought that a 38-year-old pitcher with a history of elbow problems should remain in the bullpen.
Smoltz (5-5) criticized himself for allowing four straight hits in Oakland's three-run sixth inning. But backed by Andruw Jones, who hit a pair of two-run homers, and his rookie catcher, 21-year-old Brian McCann, who added his first major-league homer, the Braves answered with three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
McCann, from nearby Duluth, Ga., is one of two Braves rookies who have childhood pictures posing with Smoltz from the early 1990s. Pitcher Kyle Davies also posed with Smoltz as a kid.
McCann followed Jones' second homer with his shot in the sixth, but he said the far bigger thrill was catching for Smoltz.
"Today was unbelievable," McCann said. "I got to catch one of my childhood idols, John Smoltz. I just had a great time out there."
McCann was 5 when Smoltz pitched his first complete game in 1989.
Asked what he learned Saturday, McCann said: "That he's got one of the dirtiest two-seamers in the game."
McCann, called up from Double-A Mississippi, has started back-to-back games while Johnny Estrada recovers from a slight concussion.
McCann was one of four rookies who started for the Braves, leaving the 28-year-old Jones as the oldest everyday player in the lineup.
"I don't feel it; I'm young, too," Jones said.
The two homers gave Jones a team-leading 14. His bat is especially important, because the Braves will be without third baseman Chipper Jones due to a foot injury for at least four to six weeks.
Smoltz threw 106 pitches in his 48th career complete game and first since April 30, 1999, against Cincinnati.
"He had his stuff," A's outfielder Mark Kotsay said. "He was throwing his fastball just over the kneecap at 92, 93, 94 all day."
Added A's reliever Justin Duchscherer: "He's amazing. he's been around for a long time for a reason."
Smoltz lowered his ERA to 3.22 while earning his 168th career win.
Oakland, which snapped an 11-game road losing streak Friday night, fell to 9-24 on the road this season.
Trailing 3-2 in the sixth, the Braves regained the lead against Duchscherer (2-1). In his first 28 innings, Duchscherer had allowed only one home run, but he gave up back-to-back shots to Jones and McCann. Jones' homer drove in Adam LaRoche, who singled.
Duchscherer gave up four hits and three runs in two innings.
Starting pitcher Kirk Saarloos held the Braves without a hit through three innings before the Braves took a 2-0 lead in the fourth. With two outs, LaRoche singled to right for his first of three hits and Jones followed with his first homer.
Saarloos gave up four hits and two runs in five innings. He was lifted for pinch-hitter Bobby Kielty in the sixth inning, when the A's took the lead.
Mark Ellis, Kielty and Mark Kotsay led off with three straight singles, driving in one run. Marco Scutaro's double to the center-field wall drove in Kielty to tie it at 2. After Eric Chavez intentionally walked to load the bases, Scott Hatteberg hit into a double play to drive in the third run.
In the eighth, Kielty led off with a walk but was stranded at third when Smoltz struck out Chavez to end the inning.
- Jones recorded his 23rd career multihomer game and his second of the season. He also hit two homers May 14 at the Los Angeles Dodgers.
- Jones now has 801 career RBI, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to drive in 800 runs.
- The A's have been held to three or fewer runs in 30 of 61 games.