But right now, Smoltz's problems are all too real, and they were there for everyone to see as the Red Sox endured a 13-6 thumping at the hands of the Yankees.
Eight starts into his comeback from right shoulder surgery, Smoltz is 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA. He is still looking for his first quality start.
"I'm pretty humbled right now with the way things have gone," said Smoltz. "I don't like to use the word embarrassed, but I have a lot of pride and I certainly don't like letting somebody down."
Smoltz thinks he can right himself. But will he have the time to do so in the heat of a pennant race, when every game becomes crucial?
"This is a result-oriented business," said Smoltz. "This is an organization that expects high standards and I expect them of myself. I'll be the first to say that these last few games -- they all haven't been like this. This is probably the worst result game that I've pitched. You don't want to do it here."
The Red Sox had won the first eight meetings between the rivals for the first time since 1912, but that became ancient history when the Yankees put a blowout in motion with an eight-run bottom of the fourth inning.
With three games still to go in the weekend showdown, the Red Sox -- mired in a three-game losing streak -- trail New York by 3 1/2 games in the American League East.
"We're playing [poorly] right now, that's obvious," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We went into Tampa and they beat up on us. We came here and didn't play very good. We've got to play better. We're hitting a stretch of the season where we're playing the best teams in the division and we've got to win."
After the game, in large part because of how much the Boston rotation has struggled of late beyond Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the spotlight was squarely on Smoltz.
Will he make his next turn in the rotation, currently scheduled for Tuesday at Fenway against the Tigers?
Red Sox manager Terry Francona stuck with his pattern of not making a rash decision in the immediate aftermath of a game. The club will huddle over the next day or so and figure out what is the next step for Smoltz.
Does Smoltz think his problems are correctable?
Victories an early indicator?
|Here's how the Red Sox and Yankees have fared in years in which one has opened with four or more wins against the other at the start of the season series.|
Opening H2H Streak
Final H2H record
Final overall record
Final overall finish
|2007||BOS||W4||8-10||96-66||1st in AL East, won WS|
|NYY||L4||10-8||94-68||AL Wild Card, lost in ALDS|
|1994||NYY||W6||7-3||7-43||1st in AL East (no postseason)|
|BOS||L6||3-7||54-61||4th in AL East|
|1990||BOS||W4||9-4||88-74||1st in AL East, lost in ALCS|
|NYY||L4||4-9||67-95||7th in AL East|
|1985||BOS||W5||5-8||81-81||5th in AL East|
|NYY||L5||8-5||97-64||2nd in AL East|
|1973||BOS||W4||9-9||89-73||2nd in AL East|
|NYY||L4||9-9||80-84||4th in AL East|
|1964||BOS||W4||9-9||72-90||8th in AL|
|BOS||L4||8-14||84-70||4th in AL|
|1945||NYY||W4||16-6||81-71||4th in AL|
|BOS||L4||6-16||71-83||7th in AL|
|1933||NYY||W9||14-8||91-59||2nd in AL|
|BOS||L9||8-14||63-86||7th in AL|
|BOS||L4||8-14||61-91||8th in AL|
|1920||BOS||W4||9-13||72-81||5th in AL|
|NYY||L4||13-9||95-59||3rd in AL|
|NYY||L14||2-19||50-102||8th in AL|
"I do, but time may not be on my side if this continues," Smoltz said. "I've been here before, not like this. But I've been in this position and I always fought my way out of it. A lot of things go into making changes. We'll see what I can do."
Though it was a distant memory by the end of the night, the Red Sox actually had the early momentum in this one. Pedroia hit an opposite-field homer to right to lead off the third, giving Boston a 1-0 lead against Joba Chamberlain.
How rare was it for Pedroia to hit one over the wall in right?
"That's the first one of my life," Pedroia said. "That's a short porch there. I got lucky."
The ballpark again played small in the bottom of the third, when Johnny Damon took Smoltz over the wall in right-center in the bottom of the third.
But Boston struck right back in the top of the fourth, thanks to a two-run homer from Casey Kotchman, making his first start since being acquired from the Braves on July 31.
Things weren't looking so bad at that point.
"We had some chances," said Pedroia. "We got his pitch count up. We had some chances. Casey hit that ball out and it seemed like we got some momentum."
Momentum can be a funny thing, however, particularly against a team that has an offense as powerful as New York's.
That 3-1 lead was turned around swiftly, thanks to several misfires from Smoltz. Robinson Cano belted a single up the middle to bring home Jorge Posada from second. Following a walk to Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera unloaded for a three-run homer to right, giving the Yankees a 5-3 lead and giving the game an irreversible turn in momentum. With runners on second and third and one out, Smoltz intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez. That was the end of his start.
"When it went, it seemed to go in a hurry," said Francona. "He started out with a pretty good first couple of innings. And then they started taking some pretty healthy swings. [They] kind of [have] an unforgiving lineup in an unforgiving ballpark. They knocked him around pretty good."
Left-hander Billy Traber, one day after being summoned from Triple-A Pawtucket, came on in relief but immediately got roughed up. Posada, the second batter he faced, smashed a three-run homer.
Smoltz was disgusted that he forced the Red Sox to go to Traber so early.
"I've always tried to have the approach that tomorrow's a new day and figure out what the problem is and get it fixed," Smoltz said. "It's frustrating. I can't sit here and tell you I'm not frustrated. I have to figure out what's going on and get it better."
What did the Yankees see from Smoltz?
"He left a couple of balls over the plate and we didn't miss them," said Mark Teixeira, who played with Smoltz in Atlanta. "Smoltzie's a different pitcher than before he had his surgery. He had a major surgery. We didn't know exactly what to expect, so we just went up there trying to swing at strikes."
And they connected more times than Smoltz would care to remember.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.