ATLANTA - John Smoltz will undergo season-ending surgery on his ailing right shoulder next week, but the 41-year-old is not ready to concede that his next move is retirement.
"I've pulled off a lot of miracles," Smoltz said yesterday at a hastily called news conference before the Braves' game against the Florida Marlins. "I probably shouldn't have played this long. I'm looking forward to seeing if I can extend it."
The only pitcher in baseball history with 200 wins and 150 saves already has returned from four operations on his elbow, but it's highly improbable for someone his age to come back from a major procedure. The news conference seemed to take on the tenor of a retirement announcement.
"This is a sad day for us in many ways," general manager Frank Wren said. "We don't know the outcome of the surgery, whether it will allow him to come back and pitch, or just allow him to go on with his life."
Still, Smoltz has defied the odds before.
"It wouldn't surprise me if he came back as a lefthanded pitcher," said Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez, a former Braves coach.
Smoltz's shoulder began hurting nearly a year ago during a start in Milwaukee. He's been on the disabled list three times since then and tried all sorts of radical solutions to cope with the pain.
He came up with a new routine at spring training, spending most of his time on the back fields pitching against minor-leaguers. When the discomfort persisted through his first five starts, he decided to return to the closer's role he held from 2001 to '04, believing that fewer innings would help him get through the season.
But one inning against the Marlins on Monday night convinced him that it was futile to continue.
"I certainly was prepared for it. I never had two days in a row where I felt good," said Smoltz, whose career record is 210-147. "I realized it the next day. Actually, I realized an hour afterward that the pain was just too great and I couldn't continue."
Initially thought to have severe inflammation, Smoltz isn't sure what the real problem is. He'll put his future in the hands of James Andrews, the sports surgeon who will perform the arthroscopic procedure in Birmingham, Ala.
"We won't know until they get in there," Smoltz said. "I'm sure when I wake up, the first question I'll ask is, 'What did you find?' I'll have no problem with whatever they tell me."
If nothing else, he's hoping for a better quality of life. Smoltz said it's been difficult to sleep, play with his children or just do ordinary chores around the house because of his aching shoulder.