ATLANTA - A fortnight's rest did wonders for John Smoltz's throwing shoulder.
Yet even seven shutout innings from the pitching ace - fresh off the 15-day disabled list Wednesday morning couldn't keep his team from being swept by one of baseball's worst teams.
The Cincinnati Reds scored all their runs off the Braves' bullpen to post a 5-4 extra-inning victory and complete their first three-game sweep in Atlanta since 1991.
"He was dominant," slugger Chipper Jones said of Smoltz. "Unfortunately, he can only go so long."
None of the 33,789 on hand on a sunny afternoon at Turner Field expected the game to go on into the supper hour. Six more pitchers took the mound after Smoltz left following the seventh inning. The 15 innings and the 4 hours, 31 minutes they took to complete marked the Braves' longest game of the season.
Atlanta's hitters felt responsible for the loss despite the runs given up by the bullpen. The Braves stranded 14 baserunners, six in the extra innings, and had run-scoring opportunities squashed by double plays in the 10th and 12th innings.
"Two mistakes on the mound cost us four runs, but you go 15 innings and you only have two mistakes on the mound, you shouldn't lose the game," Jones said.
"That's on the offense."
Cincinnati's Adam Dunn and Brandon Phillips took advantage of those two pitching miscues. Dunn hit a two-run homer in the eighth off Atlanta reliever Rafael Soriano and Phillips drove in the winning runs off Jose Ascanio in the 15th.
Phillips' two-run single gave Cincinnati (40-55) the cushion to hold off Atlanta in the bottom of the inning. The Braves scored a run on a Jeff Francoeur single but stranded the tying and winning runs on base. The marathon game forced Atlanta manager Bobby Cox to send up a pitcher, starter Kyle Davies, to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the inning because he had already used all his position players. Davies struck out to end the game.
The loss failed to dampen the clubhouse enthusiasm over Smoltz's performance, though. Wednesday marked his first start since July 2. His right shoulder, which had bothered him for a month, became inflamed following that start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He went on the disabled list three days later.
Smoltz showed few signs of lingering soreness Wednesday. He struck out a season-high 11 hitters.
He scattered five hits and walked two in seven innings, the 15th time in 17 starts this season he's worked six or more innings. He threw 93 pitches.