The lovable losers were no match for baseball's playoff warriors.
The wild, magical ride that carried the Chicago Cubs into the postseason for the first time in nine years got a reality check Wednesday in Game 1 of the NL division series. John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves saw to that.Following their usual formula - pitching and power - the Braves rolled to a 7-1 victory and showed no respect for Chicago's emotional bandwagon. As Harry Caray might have said, "Cubs lose! Cubs lose!"
"We wanted to put a lot of pressure on them right from the start," said Michael Tucker, who hit a two-run homer for the Braves. "If they get down, get themselves in a no-lose situation, that's pretty tough to be in."
Smoltz has turned the postseason into his own no-lose situation. That is, he hardly every loses at this time of year.
"He amazing," Chipper Jones said. "He can go out with less than his best stuff and continues to get people out. It doesn't matter how he feels at this time of year. He goes out there 100 percent expecting to win."
Smoltz became the winningest postseason pitcher in baseball history, pushing his record to 11-3 in 21 starts to break the mark he shared with Whitey Ford and Dave Stewart.
"It means a lot to me," Smoltz said. "It's the product behind me that allowed this to happen. It's a team and organization thing more than an individual thing."
Smoltz was 17-3 and had the best winning percentage in the majors during the regular season - a remarkable performance considering he had elbow surgery in December and went on the disabled list twice early in the season.
"I have been humbled a lot," Smoltz said. "But when you have humility, you understand how to handle adversity. This has been a year where I have not been able to enjoy many of the games I've pitched, but it has allowed me to learn a lot."
Tucker got things going for Atlanta by homering in the second, and Ryan Klesko turned the game into a rout with a seventh-inning grand slam. But with Smoltz on the mound, the Braves didn't need all those runs for the start of their seventh straight postseason.
The Cubs, weary from a three-team wild-card race and forced to win a one-game playoff against San Francisco on Monday, were in a full-scale letdown mode, going down meekly in their first playoff game since 1989.
"The Braves continue to show they are the class of the NL. The rest of us have got to raise our standards and level of play to catch up with them," Chicago manager Jim Riggleman said.
The playoffs have become so blase in Atlanta that Game 1 drew only 45,598 - about 4,000 short of sellout at Turner Field.