The Atlanta Braves, who are tough on the Dodgers anywhere, play them especially well at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where the Dodgers lost Saturday night for the 15th time in their last 18 games here, 4-2, before a sellout crowd of 49,257.
John Smoltz (3-6), who is especially tough on the Dodgers, finally won for the first time in eight starts, holding the Dodgers to five hits in eight innings, including solo home runs by Raul Mondesi and Eric Karros.
"Finally, I get to sit here and talk about my performance and not just applaud others," said Smoltz, who has pitched well in his last seven starts but has suffered from poor run support. "It's been a long time, and I am glad it's over. One thing I learned is not to let anything anybody says affect me anymore. It's funny to hear certain statements when you are so-called struggling."
The entire National League West is struggling against the Braves, who may be out of the division but are still dominating it. They have beaten NL West opponents 17 out of 18 games this season, with a 5-0 record against the Dodgers, including a three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers' 3-15 record in Atlanta dates to 1992.
"This is not a team that is like '92 or '93," said Karros, who has three home runs and 10 runs batted in in his last eight games. ". . . We feel like we can play well, but we aren't playing well right now and didn't play well at home.
"But I don't think Fred McGriff is swinging like he is capable of--granted he hit that homer tonight--and (David) Justice is struggling. They aren't hitting on all cylinders either, but they have their pitching and their hits are timely. Our hits haven't been timely for a while. You win with timely hits."
Kevin Gross (4-3), also pitched well, except for a hanging curveball that became a three-run homer in the fifth inning, McGriff's 15th homer this season.
"It's a game of inches, and if I get the double play on (Jeff) Blauser's grounder to short before McGriff comes up, then I'm out of the inning," Gross said. "I'm not saying that we should have turned the double play, I'm just saying that I'd rather not face McGriff with two guys on.
"Hey, these young guys (second baseman Garey Ingram and shortstop Eddie Pye) who just came up are doing a great job, they are hitting the ball and they turned a double play after that. I'm just saying it's a game of inches."
Ingram made his eighth start at second base and Pye got his first major league start in place of Jose Offerman, who was benched. Offerman is batting .197.
Pye, who is the best shortstop off the bench but is normally a second baseman, said he and Ingram did their best. "If he and I had a little more experience and we had played together more, that same play again (against Blauser) we would have turned," said Pye, who had never played with Ingram.
Smoltz, who got two hits against Gross, pointed to the third inning as the turning point in the game. With two runners on and one out, Smoltz came back from a 3-and-0 count against Ingram to strike him out. He then struck out Piazza swinging and went on to retire the next 12 in a row until Mondesi homered to lead off the eighth.
Greg McMichael pitched the ninth inning for his 13th save.
* BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN: The owners and players are on a collision course again, heading for their eighth work stoppage in the eight negotiations since 1972. C10