When closer Craig Kimbrel came running out of the Braves bullpen Wednesday night, ready to face the Phillies with a one-run lead in the top of the ninth, it conjured up memories of the final game of the 2011 season.
Kimbrel blew a save last Sept. 28 against the Phillies, trying to protect a 3-2 lead and lost it in a fit of wildness in a two-walk ninth.
But Kimbrel said that thought didn’t enter his mind Wednesday night. He faced a similar fate, though, allowing a four-pitch leadoff walk to Juan Pierre that spoiled his first save chance in nine tries this season.
Pierre stole second and eventually scored on an infield hit on a great attempt by shortstop Jack Wilson.
Kimbrel had said after last year he let his emotions get the best of him against the Phillies. This time around, he just blamed it on being erratic, before visits from catcher Brian McCann and hitting coach Roger McDowell settled him down.
“I was kind of everywhere there at first, but they just told me to calm down a little bit, and I did that,” Kimbrel said. “After the walk I was able to settle down. Little unfortunate the infield hit, Jack almost made an unbelievable play. It’s just one of those outings where your stuff may be there, but they still get to you.”
The veteran Chad Durbin ultimately came on in the 11th, with an eight-pitch perfect inning, to claim his first win as a Brave.
“I know he throws hard as hell and he’s talented and he’s done it, but it’s hard to simulate anything like that, with that kind of ebb and flow in the game and emotions high,” Durbin said when asked about the difficulty Kimbrel might have had controlling his emotions. “It’s hard to slow it down at 23. It’s hard to slow it down at 34.”
The back of the Braves bullpen looked oddly vulnerable during the three-game series against the Phillies, who got to Jonny Venters (two runs) on Tuesday night and Eric O’Flaherty (three runs), Kris Medlen (three runs) and Kimbrel (one run) on Wednesday.
Both O’Flaherty and Kimbrel had blown saves in Wednesday night’s win, something no two members of the vaunted Braves back-end threesome had done in a game all last season.
But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Thursday that was no cause for concern.
“You look at Kimbrel’s stuff – it’s walk, stolen base and three groundballs on the infield,” Gonzalez said. “So it’s nothing to be panicky about. Same thing with Venters the night before. A couple of bloop singles. (With O’Flaherty) I think so much is expected from him with 0.98 ERA that he gives up two runs, it’s ‘What’s the matter with him?’ I think he’s fine.”