Baseball / Sports

Miami Marlins come through against Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel

ATLANTA -- The Miami Marlins had elite closer Craig Kimbrel on the ropes Monday but couldn't put him away, loading the bases with no outs but coming up empty.

They didn't let him off the hook on Thursday.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia's single off Kimbrel in the ninth drove in Marcell Ozuna with the go-ahead run, and the Marlins defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-2. By taking three games, it gave the Marlins their first four-game series win in Atlanta since 2007.

"To take three out of four, it's keeping us alive," said Marlins closer Steve Cishek, who finished up in the ninth for his 24th save and third during the series. "It's huge, especially when you're playing a team in the division you're trying to catch up to."

It was Kimbrel's control -- or lack thereof -- that ended up costing him.

After striking out Garrett Jones to start the ninth, he appeared to have whiffed Ozuna, as well. Ozuna swung at strike three. But the ball bounced in the dirt, getting away from Evan Gattis and allowing Ozuna to reach first.

Another wild pitch by Kimbrel advanced Ozuna to second. Saltalamacchia made Kimbrel pay for his mistake with his third hit of the night, an RBI single to center.

"Kimbrel's the best closer in the game," Cishek said. "We should have had him the first night, too."

The victory still left the Marlins five games below .500 and eight games out of first in the National League East, as Washington continues to roll. But in taking three of four in Atlanta, the Marlins at least cut into the Braves' margin.

"The Braves have had a lot of success against us over the last few years, and we've got to be able to beat these guys to get to where we ultimately want to go," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "To win a series here this time of the year, it's not September, but it's still big."

Thursday's game was a dogfight.

Henderson Alvarez was back on the mound Thursday for the first time since being struck in the right leg by a batted ball five days earlier.

Though Alvarez came out of that game after 2 2/3 innings, Redmond was convinced the best starter on his staff would be ready when he spotted him Tuesday shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice.

"I saw him out there trying to rob homers during batting practice, so I took that as full green. He's good to go," Redmond said Tuesday.

Showing no ill effects, Alvarez turned in another strong performance Thursday. Though the All-Star pitcher gave up a two-run homer to Chris Johnson in the second, the Braves -- outside of Justin Upton, who had three hits -- had little success against him, otherwise.

"Henderson put up a lot of zeroes after giving up the two-run homer," Redmond said. "He gave up the big hit, the two-run homer, and he was lights out after that. That was pretty impressive against a good lineup."

The Marlins got the two runs back in the fifth on an RBI single from Adeiny Hechavarria and ground-ball out by Christian Yelich, who kept the inning alive by hustling down the line and avoiding an inning-ending double play out at first.

Then came Kimbrel and the ninth, brought in with the score tied. On Monday, the Marlins managed to load the bases against Kimbrel. But he struck out the next three to end the threat.

The Marlins ended up winning that game in extra innings.

Thursday's game had a chance of doing the same.

But Ozuna got aboard despite striking out and Saltalamacchia, who had a pair of doubles earlier in the game, drove him in.

"In that situation, I'm just trying not to get too big and put the ball in play," Saltalamacchia said. "He threw me a lot of sliders 1/8Thursday night3/8, which wasn't what he's done in the past. But I struck out two nights before on a slider, so I can't blame him.

"He made a mistake I was able to do something with."

Saltalamacchia agreed that it was an important series win for Miami.

"These division games mean everything," he said. "That's when you can gain some ground. To be able to take three out of four is big for us."

(c)2014 The Miami Herald

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