Standing at his locker with a bulky bag of ice atop his right shoulder, John Smoltz struggled to recall his last win.
"Uh, let me think," Smoltz said, stammering for the answer. "That seems so long ago."
The Atlanta right-hander won for the first time in more than two months Tuesday night, allowing just four hits in eight innings to keep the Braves atop the NL East with a 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Braves moved to 1 1/2 games ahead of the New York Mets, who lost to Houston 5-1 in 10 innings. The Astros increased their NL Central lead over Cincinnati to 1 1/2 games.
Smoltz (9-6) had not posted a victory since June 18 at Arizona the longest winless streak of his career. Over his last nine starts, he was 0-4 with five no-decisions and a 4.13 ERA, a period that included his second stint on the disabled list with a bothersome elbow.
"I didn't think he'd ever win again," joked teammate Chipper Jones. "He needed this for his psyche. He's been pitching good enough to get wins, but he's just been a little unlucky. It looks like he's on the road to recovery."
Smoltz has altered his delivery to take some of the stress off his elbow, using more of a sidearm motion rather than throwing straight over the top.
"I don't know if this has made me a better pitcher, but it's definitely made me a more creative pitcher," he said. "I'll listen to any suggestion."
His new motion sure worked aganst the Reds, whose offense was limited to a three-run homer by Aaron Boone in the second after Hernandez botched a double-play grounder to short that would have ended the inning.
"When I heard (Smoltz) was going to throw sidearm, I didn't expect he would throw a 95 mph fastball and a David Cone-type slider," said Cincinnati's Barry Larkin, who managed one hit against the Atlanta pitcher. "That's why he's one of the best."
John Rocker earned his 27th save despite allowing a run in the ninth.
The Braves put together two runs on five hits in the first against Harnisch (13-7), whose winning streak was even longer than Smoltz's winless skid.
After losing at Cleveland on May 12, Harnisch went 8-0 with four no-decisions and a 2.90 ERA for the longest winning streak by a Cincinnati pitcher since Tom Browning also won eight in a row in 1989.
"That's the way it goes," said Harnisch, who missed a chance for the 100th win of his career. "I made some mistakes and they didn't miss them. It was just bad pitches."
The right-hander settled down after Ryan Klesko was thrown out at home to end the first, retiring 12 of the next 13 hitters. But he couldn't get an out in the sixth.
Chipper Jones led off with a single, Brian Jordan walked on four pitches and Klesko tied the game with a run-scoring single. Andruw Jones singled to left, putting the Braves on top 4-3, before Hernandez lined a double to the gap in right-center to bring home both runners.
"Give them an opening and they'll jump all over you," Reds manager Jack McKeon said. "That's why they've been winning all these years."
Hernandez opened the door for the Reds to score three runs in the second. With a runner at first and one out, the shortstop booted an easy grounder by slow-running catcher Eddie Taubensee. Boone followed with his ninth homer into the left-field stands.
"I never put pressure on myself," Hernandez said. "I just told myself to calm down, make all the plays and maybe you'll get a big hit."
The Braves have dominated Cincinnati over the last three years, winning 21 of 25 meetings. By winning the first two games of this series, Atlanta ended the Reds' streak of winning nine straight series.
Also, the Reds had won 20 of 28 games when they arrived in Atlanta, never losing consecutive games during that one-month span That streak of consistency ended Tuesday night.
"This is not a good place to win," Harnisch said. "I don't think many teams come in and win. They rise to the occasion and do what they have to do."
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