Andrelton Simmons, who earlier made the defensive play of the game – and maybe the year – gave the Braves a shot in the ninth with a two-out hit through the left side of the infield, which he turned into a double by never slowing as he rounded first base. Ryan Doumit then drew a walk before B.J. Upton flied out to end the inning.
Teheran pitched seven strong innings and the Braves had a 1-0 lead after two innings against a team they’ve dominated in recent years, but those missed opportunities and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s fifth-inning homer made for a tense night.
Saltalamacchia accounted for the only run against Teheran, who matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts in seven innings while allowing four hits and one walk. Pitching on an extra three days of rest following the All-Star break, he fired 71 strikes in 107 pitches and kept his home ERA at a majors-leading 1.23 in 10 starts.
“Teheran was about as good as I’ve seen him in a long time,” Gonzalez said. “And I guess we could say that every time he goes out, we feel like he does that.”
The Braves have scored one or no runs while Teheran has been in the game in nine of his 21 starts.
“He’s been so good for us,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of what we expect. That’s why it stinks as an offense, because we want to score a couple of runs. We know a couple of runs with him, we’re good to go. But we couldn’t do it.”
The Marlins loaded the bases against Simmons on Christian Yelich’s leadoff single, a one-out intentional walk to Giancarlo Stanton (after a sacrifice left first base open), and damning walk to Casey McGehee that brought out pitching coach Roger McDowell for a brief chat with the young reliever.
Jones hit the next pitch up the middle to bring in two runs and deflate a crowd of 26,766 that had been jacked up over the Kimbrel tightrope walk an inning before.
Simmons, after allowing just 11 hits and two earned runs in 18 2/3 innings (0.96 ERA) over his first 20 major league appearances, has given up four hits, five earned runs and three walks in 2 1/3 innings over his past four appearances.
“Sometimes it’s just a little bit of a learning curve,” Gonzalez said. “You feel good when he’s out there that he’s going to give you a good solid inning, it just hasn’t happened for him the last couple of times out.”
Kimbrel did what few other closers could do or would care to attempt, escaping a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the ninth with the score tied. He did it by striking out the next two batters, Saltalamacchia and Adeiny Hechavarria, and getting a line-out by pinch-hitter Donovan Solano to second base to end the inning.
The Marlins had loaded the bases with two walks sandwiched around a single by Garrett Jones.
Johnson’s one-out grounder with two runners on base in the second inning put the Braves ahead 1-0, but he flied out with two on to end the fourth and struck out with bases loaded to end the sixth.
Tommy La Stella grounded out with a runner at third to end the eighth inning. La Stella has lately been the Braves’ best hitter with runners in scoring position, particularly with two outs, while Johnson was 9-for-20 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his past five games before Monday.
Teheran has a 0.80 ERA in his past six home starts, allowing one or no runs in all of them and only four hits in each of the past four. The All-Star has worked seven or more innings in five of those past six home games, and six innings in the other.
The Marlins had two on with one out in the sixth when Teheran struck out Saltalamacchia and Adeiny Hechevarria to get out of trouble and raise his strikeout total to 11, matching the career high he accomplished twice in 2013.
He allowed no hits while retiring 14 of the first 15 batters – including seven strikeouts – before Saltalamacchia’s first-pitch homer on a changeup with two out in the fifth. Saltalamacchia was a Braves rookie in 2007, the year Teheran signed with Atlanta as a 16-year-old free agent from Colombia.
The only Marlin to reach base prior to the homer was Yelich on a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, before one of the most spectacular plays in a long line of them by Simmons, the Platinum Glove shortstop.
Simmons kept the no-hitter going a little longer with his defensive gem on a grounder by the next batter, Jordan Valdespin. With Yelich running, Simmons darted toward second to cover when Valdespin stroked a sharp grounder to Simmons’ right.
With remarkable quickness, Simmons changed direction with his upper body, reached back for a diving stop, then had the presence to flip over and quickly reach and tag second base with his glove a half-step ahead of Yelich, who presumably stayed on his feet instead of sliding because he was certain the ball was going to get through.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Johnson, who had a good vantage point at third base. “The funny thing is, the guy was mad that he didn’t throw the ball to first base. Like, how do you make that play and then get upset that you didn’t throw the ball to first base? That’s how good he is. It was an incredible play. Incredible. To even catch it, let alone to roll over and touch the bag.”
Gonzalez said, “He gets upset because he thinks he can turn two on that play. A couple of guys in the dugout said if he would have turned two on that play they would have taken their uniforms off and gone home because he’s in a different league. But that’s how special he is.”
The Braves had a chance to do early damage against right-hander Tom Koehler after starting the second inning with consecutive singles by Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, who went to second on a throwing error by Stanton. With two in scoring position and none out, Evan Gattis struck out in his first at-bat since June 27 after coming off the disabled list earlier Monday.
Johnson’s groundout to first base scored Upton, but the Braves had to settle for one after Simmons grounded out to end the inning. The only other Braves to reach base through five innings came on consecutive two-out singles from Heyward and Gattis in the fourth, when Johnson flied out to center to end the inning.
Koehler had a 5.37 ERA in 10 road starts before limited the Braves to five hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings.