PHOENIX – He did it while much of Braves Country slept, but Craig Kimbrel did it. He became the new Braves saves king late Friday on a night when Julio Teheran and Jason Heyward continued to sizzle in the desert.
Kimbrel moved ahead of John Smoltz for sole possession of the franchise record with a four-out save in a 5-2 series-opening win against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, where Teheran pitched seven strong innings to win his fourth consecutive start and Heyward had three hits and two RBIs including a two-run homer.
It was the 16th save of the season for Kimbrel and the 155th of his career, moving him ahead of Smoltz, a former Cy Young Award winner and still the only pitcher in major league history to collect at least 200 wins and 150 saves.
“I’m excited for him,” Teheran said. “He deserves it, and that’s only the start of what he’s going to do for this team.”
Kimbrel came on to strike out Martin Prado with a runner on for the last out of the eighth inning to protect a 3-2 lead, and the Braves tacked on two runs in the ninth on four hits including Jordan Schafer’s leadoff single and run-scoring singles by Heyward and Justin Upton.
“They went out there and got those insurance runs,” said Kimbrel, who retired the side in order in the ninth with two line-outs to outfielders and a game-ending pop fly to shortstop Andrelton Simmons. “That always makes it easier. One-run game, one pitch can be the difference in the game. For it to become a three-run game makes a big difference.”
It was only the third four-out save of Kimbrel’s career and first this season.
“My job is to pitch,” Kimbrel said, “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.”
Asked if it was nice to get the much-discussed and anticipated record out of the way, Kimbrel said, “It is. It’s nice to win. It’s a big win for us. After losing those two games at home, to start this road trip off with a win is pretty big.”
The Braves were swept in a two-game homestand against Seattle before venturing back out on the road for a seven-game trip to Arizona and Colorado.
Teheran (6-3) allowed five hits and two runs in seven innings with one walk and seven strikeouts. He’s 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA in his past four starts, with 27 strikeouts and five walks in 29 1/3 innings.
“I made two mistakes in the game that cost me two runs,” Teheran said, referring to a leadoff homer by Didi Gregorius in the first inning and an RBI single by pitcher Brandon McCarthy, the first RBI of the veteran right-hander’s career. “But I’m just happy that I got the support of my team. We did a great job working as a team and we got the win.”
Heyward had three hits and a walk in five plate appearances, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and giving him a .348 average with 32 hits including four homers in his past 23 games.
Schafer also had three hits, and rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella had his fifth two-hit game in eight since arriving from Triple-A to raise his average to .423 with 11 singles, two walks and one strikeout in 26 at-bats.
After Teheran threw 97 pitches in seven innings, left-hander Alex Wood was brought in to start the eighth. He struck out the leadoff batter but then walked Gerardo Parra. Manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to bring in rookie newcomer Shae Simmons — not David Carpenter — at that point to face slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who flied out to deep center on the first pitch. Gonzalez then called on Kimbrel to face ex-Brave Prado.
“(Simmons) has got a big fastball and he’s got some breaking pitches,” Gonzalez said. “He only needed one pitch to face Goldschmidt there. I’d rather face him (Goldschmidt) with two out with Kimbrel, but we walked the left-hander when Woody walks Parra. You hate to bring in Kimbrel for a (five) out save situation, so…. That was a big out (by Simmons).”
The Braves trailed 1-0 before finally snapping a string of 20 consecutive scoreless innings when Heyward lined a two-run opposite-field homer to the left-field seats in the fifth. Andrelton Simmons’ RBI double scored Heyward after a seventh-inning walk to regain the lead after McCarthy’s tying single in the fifth.
After Gregorius homered to start the first inning, Teheran didn’t give up another hit until David Peralta’s leadoff double in the fifth.
“Impressive,” Heyward said of Teheran. “I just said wow after he came out of the game. I know he gave up the home run and he gave up a cheap run to the pitcher, but I mean he held them right there. Literally held them right there. He and Gat (catcher Evan Gattis) were the reason they didn’t score any more and we were able to come back and put up some runs.”
Peralta scored when McCarthy bounced his two-out hit just past third baseman Chris Johnson’s glove, only the fourth hit in 76 major league plate appearances for McCarthy, 30, who spent most of his career in the American League.
Gregorius, who also walked in the third, was the only runner to reach base against Teheran through the first four innings.
The Braves didn’t just fail to score after Heyward’s leadoff single in first inning, after Evan Gattis’ one-out double in fourth, or after Simmons’ one-out double in the fourth. No, they didn’t even advance the runner in any of those innings.
After Heyward started the game with a single, Simmons struck out, Freddie Freeman grounded into a fielder’s choice and Justin Upton struck out looking at three consecutive pitches.
Upton, in his second series at Chase Field since being traded by the Diamondbacks to the Braves in January 2013, struck out in each of his three at-bats against McCarthy (1-8), including leading off the fourth and sixth innings.
With Simmons at second and two out in the seventh inning, Upton flied out a step in front of the right-field wall against former Braves right-hander Randall Delgado, who was dealt to Arizona along with Prado and three minor leaguers in the trade for Upton and Johnson.
After Gattis’ double in the fourth, the catcher was thrown out on a fielder’s choice when he ventured way too far off second base on Johnson’s grounder to the shortstop.