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Braves top D-backs as Kimbrel seizes club saves title

Righty passes Smoltz; Heyward drives in three with three hits

PHOENIX -- Craig Kimbrel is only in his fifth full season in the Majors, all of them as the closer for the Braves, and it didn't take him long to set the club's all-time save record of 155. He just turned 26.

Kimbrel passed John Smoltz on Friday night at Chase Field when he was asked to close down the D-backs in a rare four-out save situation. It was only the third time he's done that in his career. Smoltz, who spent most of his 21 seasons as a starter, did it 35 times.

Different times, different eras.

"I mean, they're OK, I like them," said Kimbrel after recording his 16th save of the season in the Braves' 5-2 win over the D-backs. "My job is to pitch, so if I have to come in and get four or five outs, that's my job. That's what I'm supposed to do."

Kimbrel was the third pitcher Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez used in the eighth inning as his club clung to a 3-2 lead.

Andrelton Simmons doubled in the go-ahead run in the seventh and Julio Teheran (6-3) pitched seven innings of five-hit ball as the Braves took the first game of a three-game weekend set.

Gonzalez called on Kimbrel with the tying run on second. He struck out former teammate Martin Prado looking to end that threat before setting the D-backs down in order in the ninth. He has recorded his 155 saves in 172 opportunities, blowing only 17. Smoltz converted 154 of 169 when soon-to-be Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox used him to close from 2001-04.

"He hadn't pitched since last Saturday so we were able to do that," Gonzalez said when asked about bringing Kimbrel on in the eighth. "He set an Atlanta Braves record. Good for him and good for us that we have him to use in the back of the game. It sure is a nice luxury."

Actually, the franchise record stretches across the eras from Boston to Milwaukee and Atlanta. It could be argued that if Cox had Kimbrel on his clubs that went to World Series five times from 1991-99, the Braves would have won more than one championship. Cox had Alejandro Pena, who saved 26 games for the Braves, and Mark Wohlers, who had 112.

Wohlers closed out Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, defeating the Indians, 1-0, in a game that Tom Glavine, another imminent Hall of Famer, pitched eight innings of one-hit ball.

Smoltz won 210 games for the Braves, 206 of them as a starter. He'll be on the Hall of Fame ballot later this year for the first time and is eligible to be elected in the Class of 2015.

Kimbrel? He succeeded Billy Wagner as Braves' closer and he's just getting started.

"It's amazing," said Kimbrel, who was placed into the role of closer late in the 2010 season by Cox, his last year as a manager. "I got a chance at a young age. I've been put in some situation and that's why I am where I am now. Having a chance in my first season to be a closer, that doesn't happen very often. That's why we're here talking today because I had that opportunity. It's pretty awesome."

The Braves went into the series having lost two in a row at home to the Mariners and were 29th in the Major Leagues with 199 runs scored. But Jason Heyward went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs, including a two-run homer off D-backs starter Brandon McCarthy (1-8). With Miami's loss to the Cubs in Chicago, the Braves again took over undisputed possession of first place in the National League East with a 32-27 record.

Teheran (6-3) allowed the two D-backs runs, the first coming off a first-inning leadoff homer by recently-recalled shortstop Didi Gregorius. He whiffed seven, walked one and tossed 97 pitches, his ERA remaining about level at 1.89.

That set up the situation for Kimbrel. But putting it all into perspective, even with the Braves' modest record secure, he's still well behind Trevor Hoffman's all-time NL-leading 601 saves and Mariano Rivera's record 652, all with the Yankees.

"That's impressive," Kimbrel said. "If you look at what they've done, it just shows how hard they worked, to stay healthy that long and pitch that many years in pressure-packed situations."

Rivera did it for 19 seasons and Hoffman for 18. Hard to imagine.

"I can only imagine doing it for one more season," Kimbrel said, laughing. "This season. One more."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.
Read More: Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran