Ervin, Braves stomp out threats, hold off Fish
Santana limits damage; rookie Simmons escapes; Kimbrel ties Smoltz
MIAMI -- Even after enduring a frustrating week marred by an abundance of squandered opportunities against the Red Sox, the Braves still displayed a fun-loving, cool demeanor that seemingly helped them avoid the misery that would have been felt had they blown yet another late-inning lead.
After securing Saturday afternoon's 9-5 win over the Marlins, the Braves returned to their clubhouse laughing and smiling about what had just transpired. Shae Simmons recorded a pressure-packed key out less than 24 hours after learning he was getting called up from Double-A, and Craig Kimbrel tied John Smoltz's franchise saves record after it appeared he would not be needed.
And long after delivering the first of the many key two-out hits that provided the comfort necessary to notch this big win over a division rival, Freddie Freeman was providing some of the comic relief that helped Simmons ease through his Major League debut in impressive fashion.
"These are the games that count in your division," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "Obviously, we dropped four straight to Boston. But these are the ones you have to win when you're tied and playing a team in your division. I like the way we've come back from a four-game losing streak."
Having moved into sole possession of first place with Friday night's series-opening win over the Marlins, the Braves certainly did not seem to be affected by the fact that they had blown leads in three of the four consecutive losses suffered against the Red Sox leading into this weekend.
After David Carpenter allowed the Marlins a pair of two-out runs in the eighth inning, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez brought Simmons out of the bullpen to throw his first career pitch with two on and a one-run lead.
Simmons simply laughed when Freeman greeted him at the mound by simply saying, "You nervous?"
The hard-throwing right-hander, who was in Double-A Mississippi's bullpen on Friday, certainly was not hindered by the nervous energy that surrounded him. He needed just three pitches to stomp out the threat by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
"Other than the last one, that's the biggest out in the game," said Gonzalez, whose decision to call upon the 23-year-old right-hander was influenced by the presence of Laird, the veteran catcher who simply told the reliever to focus on throwing and follow his pitch signals.
Once Simmons displayed the composure of a seasoned vet, the Braves added three more runs in the top of the ninth with the help of Laird's RBI single and Ramiro Pena's perfectly placed safety squeeze bunt. With a four-run lead, it looked like Kimbrel would not be needed. But that was before David Hale created a save situation for the dominant closer by surrendering a single and issuing a one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth.
With two on and one out, Kimbrel struck out Derek Dietrich. Giancarlo Stanton followed with what appeared to be a game-ending groundout until Pena -- a late-inning defensive replacement -- was unable to handle Chris Johnson's throw. But when Casey McGehee followed with a groundout, the Braves had a hard-fought victory and Kimbrel found himself tied with Smoltz for the most saves (154) in franchise history.
"We played a good ballgame today," Kimbrel said. "We hit the ball when we needed to and we pitched when we needed to. It was a tough ballgame, but we came out on top. It was good to get these first two games, coming in here tied. We knew this was a big series."
The Braves gained a two-game division lead with the benefit of scoring each of their first six runs with two outs. Freeman had been 0-for-29 against the Marlins this year before he opened the afternoon's scoring with a two-run double in the three-run third inning. Jason Heyward further frustrated Marlins starter Jacob Turner with a two-run single in the fourth inning.
But the decisive RBI also served as the first one recorded in the career of Tommy La Stella, who was promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his Major League debut on Wednesday. La Stella highlighted his second two-hit game with a seventh-inning single off Arquimedes Caminero.
"We just kept letting them hang around and letting them hang around," Gonzalez said. "That is a dangerous team. But we got the win."
Braves starting pitcher Ervin Santana helped secure this win by proving capable of minimizing the bleeding. His inability in his previous outing had allowed the Red Sox to erase a five-run, fifth-inning deficit and claim the first of their four straight victories over Atlanta.
Santana began to waver when Christian Yelich began the bottom of the fourth with a triple and scored on a Dietrich single that cut the Braves' lead to 5-1. But the veteran hurler then sandwiched strikeouts of Stanton and Garrett Jones around a McGehee flyout.
Yelich capped his three-hit performance with a sixth-inning single that was followed by Dietrich's RBI triple. The Braves then walked Stanton ahead of a McGehee sacrifice fly that brought the Marlins within two. But Santana ended his 87-pitch performance by getting Jones to ground into a double play.
Santana was not nearly as impressive as he had been while producing a 1.99 ERA in his first six starts. But he was certainly much more effective than he had been while allowing 17 runs in the 17 innings that had encompassed his past three starts.
"They made [Santana] earn it," Gonzalez said. "There weren't any easy innings up and down the lineup. Getting him back to his winning ways was obviously a good thing."