SAN DIEGO – A couple of glaring mistakes late and too many missed scoring opportunities – including a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the 12th inning — doomed the Braves on Saturday, when Will Venable's one-out single in the 12th gave the Padres a 3-2 walk-off win and handed Atlanta its fifth consecutive loss to start an eight-game trip.
Closer Craig Kimbrel, in his second inning of work Saturday, walked three of the first four batters in the 12th before Venable singled over the head of right fielder Jason Heyward. The Padres poured from their dugout to celebrate, and the Braves fell to 9-15 in their past 24 games including 0-8 in games decided by one run.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves wer 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-7 in the last four innings. “A lot of opportunities with people on. All we needed was one lousy run. It’s hard to get a lousy run sometimes, but we had plenty of opportunities to do it.”
The most glaring of those missed opportunities came when the Braves failed to score after loading the bases with none out in the 12th. Evan Gattis hit a grounder to third baseman Yangervis Solarte, who threw home to start a 5-2-3 double play. Chris Johnson grounded out to first base to end the inning.
In the 11th inning, Braves newcomer Emilio Bonifacio strayed too far off second base on Tommy La Stella’s one-out fly to shallow center and was thrown out for an inning-ending double play. Bonifacio said he got a bad read on the play after center fielder Alexi Amarista initially took two steps back before charging in to catch the ball.
After the Padres got a leadoff single from Rene Rivera in the bottom of the 11th against Kimbrel and moved the runner to second on a sacrifice, Andrelton Simmons made a splendid play to field a ground ball on the outfield grass and throw back across his body to second base — instead of a more conventional throw to first — to catch unsuspecting Rivera off the base.
Gattis gunned down Everth Cabrera trying to steal second to end the 11th inning and give the Braves a jolt of energy, and they appeared ready to capitalize in the 12th after getting a leadoff single from Freddie Freeman and a Justin Upton double to put two runners in scoring position with none out.
Jason Heyward was walked intentionally to set up a potential double play, but even the Padres couldn’t have expected to get a double play without giving up a run. But they got it.
And then in the bottom of the 12th, with Kimbrel pitching into a second inning for only the fourth time this season, Padres hitters showed patience and made him work. Yangervis Solarte drew a six-pitch leadoff walk. Seth Smith struck out. Jedd Gyorko drew a six-pitch walk, and Chris Nelson drew yet another six-pitch walk, all six 98-99 mph fastballs.
With bases loaded and the outfield drawn in, Venable lined a single over Heyward on a 1-and-1, 98-mph fastball, the 38th pitch for Kimbrel and only his 19th strike. That’s about twice his pitch count in a typical appearance.
“I wouldn’t say I was fatiguing,” Kimbrel said. “I did throw a lot of pitches. I don’t normally throw that many pitches, but when you go out there and throw a lot of balls and walk guys, that’s what happens. The plan was to go out there and throw one or two (innings) and hope we scored. But I just can’t go out there and walk guys like I did tonight. You put the ball in play like they did and the game’s over.
“I think as a pitcher, anytime that you walk a guy and they score, you get pretty aggravated about it. Especially in that situation, where it was the ballgame. Makes it a little bit more bitter.”
It was the fourth time this season that Kimbrel has pitched into a second inning (i.e., after sitting down between innings). In two of those appearances he’s allowed the winning run in a walk-off loss, at Boston on May 29 and Saturday.
“He’s obviously got the makeup to do it, but to be able to do it is a little bit difficult,” Gonzalez said of multi-inning appearances from a closer. “More difficult than just sitting in a studio someplace and thinking, ‘Oh, he can throw two innings.’ It’s not that simple. Not everybody can do it.”
Kimbrel said, “You’ve got to go out there and do it and find out if you can do it or not. And I didn’t do it tonight, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it next time.”
Heyward, back in the lineup after missing four games with a strained back, singled and scored the tying run in the eighth, then doubled to start the 10th. But after Gattis grounded out to the right side to move him over, Heyward was stranded when Chris Johnson struck out and Simmons popped out foul.
James Russell, the left-hander acquired from the Cubs in a Thursday trade, made his Braves debut in the ninth with the score tied and gave up a leadoff single to lefty hitter Amarista. After a sacrifice bunt moved the potential winning run into scoring position. Russell intentionally walked Solarte before getting the lefty-hitting Smith to pop up for the second out.
David Carpenter replaced Russell and got Jedd Gyorko on a groundout to force extra innings.
Braves starter Ervin Santana got no decision and was charged with two runs, six hits and four walks with six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
“It was a tough game,” said Santana, who is 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his past four starts and has 27 strikeouts in 24 innings over his past three starts. “We got a lot of opportunities to score a lot of runs, but we didn’t do it. But at the same time, they had great pitching and did everything to win….
“We just have to try to do little things – bunting, or a base hit when we need it. That’s the only thing we can do, because we’re pitching very good. That’s it.”
After falling behind 5-0 in Friday’s embarrassing 10-1 series-opening loss, the Braves staked Santana to a 1-0 lead in the first inning Saturday. B.J. Upton drew a walk to start the game and scored on Freddie Freeman’s one-out double, drawing plenty of applause from the Freeman family-and-friends cheering section from nearby Orange County.
Until the eighth inning, there wasn’t much more in the way of offense to get excited about for any Braves fans in a crowd of 39,402. But after San Diego scored two in the top of the eighth – the second on a Jordan Walden wild pitch — to take a 2-1 lead, the Braves answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, another wild pitch factoring in along with a dubious decision by Simmons.
Heyward singled with one out in the eighth and advanced on a wild pitch by reliever Kevin Quackenbush. After Gattis drew a walk, Johnson singled to bring in the tying run.
The Braves had a chance to do more, with runners on the corners and one out. But Simmons made an ill-advised bunt attempt, pushing the ball hard toward first base, and Gattis was thrown out at the plate. It didn’t appear to be a squeeze attempt, as Gattis was not running on contact and didn’t seem aware Simmons intended to bunt.
Simmons declined to speak to reporters, and Gonzalez clearly appeared to be covering for Simmons when the manager said he would take the blame for the bunt attempt, but wouldn’t elaborate on what he meant or why he’d take the blame.
When Ryan Doumit grounded out to end the eighth with two runners on, it was the seventh time the Braves left at least one runner on base and the third time they stranded two.
The tone was set in the first inning, when they had two on with one out and a 1-0 lead. Heyward grounded out and Gattis struck out. That was the first of five consecutive innings the Braves struck out to end the inning with at least one runner on against Padres starter Ian Kennedy.
Kennedy allowed five walks and two hits in five innings, but his seven strikeouts undermined the Braves.
Meanwhile, Santana also put on a clinic in how to get out of trouble, at least for most of the night.
The Padres have had the worst-hitting, lowest-scoring offense in the majors this season, but before Saturday their 71 runs in 14 games since the All-Star break were the most in the National League. They’d batted .296 in a 6-4 stretch, totaling 104 hits including games with 14, 13, 10 and 16 hits, topped by Friday’s 20-hit outburst in a 10-1 win against the Braves.
The only time they had scored fewer than two runs in their past 10 games was Monday’s 2-0 loss at Atlanta, when Santana limited them to five hits in eight innings with no walks and 11 strikeouts. The Padres put together plenty of failed scoring opportunities before finally cracking the Santana code in the seventh on three singles and a walk against him, then a wild pitch by Walden.
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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com