Kimbrel earns 200th save as Padres beat Braves
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves could have used Craig Kimbrel on Monday night. Instead, their former All-Star closer picked up a milestone save with the San Diego Padres in his first trip back to Turner Field.
The Padres tied the game in the ninth inning thanks to a throwing error by new Braves closer Jason Grilli, and San Diego scored twice in the 11th for a 5-3 victory.
Kimbrel made quick work of the Braves in the bottom of the 11th to record his 14th save of the season and 200th of his career.
The 27-year-old right-hander is the quickest to reach the plateau, doing it in his 318th game — the first 294 with the Braves.
“It’s definitely cool, but I wouldn’t say it means any more,” Kimbrel said when asked if it was special to reach the milestone in Atlanta. “Every save has a lot of meaning. I would have been happy wherever it happened.”
Grilli, who took over the closer’s role for the Braves when Kimbrel was traded on the eve of Opening Day, had a moment to forget rather than remember.
“The game’s not easy,” said Grilli, who threw away a pickoff attempt and then the save opportunity. “This was a tough loss.”
Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso doubled in the ninth, then gave way to former Braves outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., who came in as a pinch runner. Grilli threw the ball into center field trying to pick off Upton, and Upton moved up to third.
Second baseman Cory Spangenberg, who hit an RBI double in the second inning, followed with a sacrifice fly, and the Braves had their 11th blown save of the season.
“He just threw the ball away,” said Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who didn’t second-guess the attempt. “You have to let your players play.”
Right fielder Matt Kemp hit a tiebreaking double in the 11th inning off right-hander Cody Martin, and shortstop Alexi Amarista drove in an insurance run with a two-bagger against Luis Avilan.
Kimbrel had no trouble in the bottom of the 11th, retiring the Braves in order and striking out left fielder Todd Cunningham to end the game.
“It was a little different coming out of another bullpen and with no music,” said Kimbrel, who has an uncharacteristic 4.09 ERA with his new team. “But the fans were nice. They cheered for me.”
Brandon Mauer, who pitched a perfect 10th for the Padres, improved to 3-0 with the victory. Martin, who didn’t get an out, is 2-3.
Braves starter Shelby Miller allowed five hits and a run over seven innings in lowering his ERA to 1.84, but he was deprived of his sixth victory. The right-hander struck out six and walked one while throwing 70 of his 94 pitches for strikes.
Not only did former Braves Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. have roles in the San Diego victory, but so did left fielder Justin Upton. He drove in center fielder Will Venable, who had doubled off reliever Jim Johnson, with a grounder in the eighth inning to make it a one-run game.
The Braves and Padres made two trades during the offseason, and players in both contributed for each team in the series opener.
Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin had two singles and a stolen base in his fifth consecutive multi-hit game, and second baseman Jace Peterson also had two hits.
Maybin is 13-for-25 (.520) during the hot streak, lifting his average at .299.
Padres starter Ian Kennedy needed 107 pitches to make it through five innings. He allowed eight hits and three runs while walking none and striking out six.
Spangenberg put the Padres ahead with a two-out double in the second inning that scored Alonso, who singled with one out. Spangenberg fouled off five two-strike pitches from Miller before pulling a cutter down the right field line.
The Padres’ lead didn’t last long, though, as Kennedy gave up three runs on four hits in the third. Maybin and first baseman Freddie Freeman delivered run-scoring singles, and right fielder Nick Markakis had an RBI double.
The Braves’ bullpen, which has the highest ERA in the majors, couldn’t get the job done. Kimbrel and five other Padres relievers could.
“Craig is on this way to a very nice career,” San Diego manager Buddy Black said.
NOTES: RHP Brandon Morrow returned to San Diego for an MRI exam Monday after he experienced discomfort during his second rehab outing with Double-A San Antonio on Sunday. He was 2-0 with a 2.73 ERA before going on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. ... San Diego CF Melvin Upton Jr., who had been on the disabled list all season with a foot injury before finishing a rehab stint with Triple-A El Paso, was activated and appeared as a pinch runner. ... LHP Donnie Veal, designated for assignment by the Braves on June 1, was released. ... Braves OF/3B Kelly Johnson (oblique) began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday. ... San Diego RHP James Shields (7-0, 3.58 ERA) will start Tuesday against Atlanta rookie RHP Mike Foltynewicz (3-2, 4.29). The only San Diego pitcher to open a season with a better record than Shields was Andy Hawkins, who began 11-0 in 1985.