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Smith is in the win column

27-year-old rookie savors first victory

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Barbara Matson
Globe Staff / June 25, 2008

Chris Smith doesn't have a nameplate above his stall in the locker room yet; it's marked only by a strip of plastic that reads "Boston Red Sox."

But the 27-year-old rookie has more significant souvenirs now - a game ball and a scorecard from last night's 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks - after he pitched two hitless innings in relief of Justin Masterson to claim his first major league win.

"I feel like a starter for a little bit right now," said Smith, who made his debut Saturday, pitching four innings in a 9-3 loss to St. Louis, after trudging around the minor leagues for six years.

"It's really, really exciting stuff. I get just as nervous now as I was the first game and to get a win, that's just - wow - as a reliever, those don't come too often."

Smith still talks about the Red Sox as "they," as in, "The bullpen has been used quite a bit this year, and they've been doing a great job, and I just think with the addition of me, I can hopefully get those guys some breaks."

Smith, a fourth-round selection by the Sox in the 2002 draft, has spent a lot of time in Double A and Triple A, and undergone two arm surgeries. In Pawtucket this season, he was 1-2 with a 1.52 ERA in 22 games (four starts), plus eight saves.

"At some point, it started to look like no," said Smith of getting to the big leagues, "and at some point, it looked like yeah. And then at some points, you just don't think about it, and the next thing you know you're up here and you're racing 100 miles an hour and you've just got to contain that and go do the best you can."

Masterson went six innings last night, giving up seven hits (including one home run), four earned runs, and four walks, while striking out four. Arizona starter Doug Davis was keeping the Sox' bats quiet, and when the seventh inning began, the Sox trailed, 4-1. That's when Smith got the call.

"Coming in in that situation, you just want to throw up zeroes and keep the defense off the field and let them come in and start swinging the bat," said Smith, who added that his fastball and changeup were working well for him, as well as "really throwing pitches for strikes, the ability to keep them off balance as much as possible."

When Smith made his debut Saturday, relieving Daisuke Matsuzaka in the second inning, the bases were loaded and the Sox trailed, 4-0. Smith struck out the first batter he faced, Rick Ankiel, then gave up a grand slam to Troy Glaus. With three of those runs charged to Matsuzaka, Smith ended up allowing just one earned run over his four innings, with three hits and three strikeouts.

Last night, Smith's first inning went much smoother. He retired his first two batters before walking Conor Jackson, but then he got Chad Tracy (who drove in all four Arizona runs) to fly to right to retire the side.

"We're down, and if we get more [down], we're in trouble," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "[Smith] gives us two solid innings and gives us a chance where if we get some offense, we actually have a chance to win."

Smith did his job again in the eighth: Chris Young struck out swinging, Augie Ojeda lined to left field, and Jeff Salazar grounded out.

That set up the Sox' blockbuster inning.

"A lot of things can happen in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings," said Smith.

"They hit the ball wherever they needed to and they scored runs, and it makes my outing look that much better - and I got my first win and Pap [Jonathan Papelbon] comes in and it's pretty textbook.

"My thoughts are just pitch as well as you can and make it hard for them to send you down."

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