Braves closer nets first posteason save to lock down Game 2
ATLANTA -- There was a brief pause in the eighth inning Friday, a few seconds tops, between the time Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez emerged from the dugout and time the bullpen door came swinging open. The first strains of "Welcome to the Jungle" had not yet blared over the stadium loudspeakers, rendering Turner Field all but silent.
Then, sensing Craig Kimbrel before actually seeing him, the home crowd suddenly burst into a roar. It drowned out Kimbrel's entrance. It drowned out the first strains of Slash's guitar. It drowned out just about everything in the zip code.
The best closer in baseball had arrived on the scene. Losing, Braves fans understood, was no longer much of an option.
"It's one of those things where you always try to tell yourself to calm down," Kimbrel said. "It's a little bit easier said than done."
For Kimbrel, "calm" was never on the menu. Summoned with two outs and the bases empty in the eighth inning of National League Division Series Game 2, Atlanta's closer further frenzied the home crowd by retiring Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe on a 101-mph fastball. He then worked around two walks in the ninth, hitting triple digits on eight of his 25 total pitches.
"I guess it did," Kimbrel said when asked if the crowd played into his performance. "The scoreboard said so."
Velocity aside, Kimbrel was somewhat unhappy with his first career postseason save, and for good reason: if not for a strong throw and tag to catch Dee Gordon stealing second base, the Dodgers might have come back to tie the game in the ninth. But because Gerald Laird fired a strike from behind the plate and Andrelton Simmons applied a tough tag -- replays were inconclusive -- Kimbrel was able to escape with a four-out save.
That was the plan all along for the Braves, who feel they can shorten games by going to Kimbrel in the eighth inning if the situation calls for it. By recording four outs Friday, Kimbrel notched the first multi-inning save by a Braves reliever since John Smoltz in Game 1 of the 2001 NLDS.
"It's huge," Kimbrel said. "Nobody wanted to go out to L.A. down two games. Tonight was huge in our minds. We knew we were going to have a tough game ahead of us and our guys showed up, played hard, and we got some big hits tonight. That's what it came down to. We're going out to LA, and hopefully we can keep that momentum going."