Evan Gattis' two-run ninth-inning home run served as the crushing blow for the Braves as they completed a three-game sweep with Sunday afternoon's 4-2 win over the Marlins. But the victory was not secured until Simmons filled in for the unavailable Craig Kimbrel and recorded the final three outs with the poise of a veteran.
"I got through it," Simmons said. "I'm not going to say it wasn't a little intimidating."
Simmons actually notched his first save in a situation that was not necessarily any more intimidating than the one he experienced on Saturday, when he threw the first pitch of his career with two on and two out in the eighth inning of a one-run game. The 23-year-old right-hander stomped out that threat with a three-pitch strikeout, and then proved he was capable of working around trouble during Sunday's scoreless ninth inning.
"He showed good composure," Gattis said. "He didn't seem to get too shaken up. I think it was good that he was in that high-pressure situation [Saturday]. I think that helped."
Actually, what really helped was the two-run advantage that was gained when Gattis drilled his game-winning homer off the home run sculpture located beyond the center-field fence. His 11th home run of the season served as the first Steve Cishek had allowed in a span of 67 1/3 innings dating back to June 8, 2013. The Marlins closer had also limited the Braves to just one run in 11 innings since the start of the 2013 season.
"That's a big home run there, in this ballpark off that reliever," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That doesn't happen very often. The matchup didn't favor us there. I haven't seen it yet. But it looked like Cishek got the ball up in the strike zone a little bit and Gattis made him pay for it and got it out of the deepest part of the ballpark."
Pitching in a non-save situation, Cishek encountered trouble when he surrendered a leadoff single to Freddie Freeman, who is 2-for-36 against the Marlins this year. He then complicated matters by missing the strike zone with the first two pitches thrown to Gattis, who has hit three more home runs than any other Major League catcher this year.
"I just fell behind with two sliders," Cishek said. "Any time you fall behind with two sliders ... he's a dead-red fastball hitter. I was just trying to stick that down and away, and it came back over. He's a good fastball hitter and I gave him the pitch to drive out. Hats off to him. Obviously, Atlanta is a good team. That's why they're in first place right now."
Once Gattis' home run gave the Braves their first lead of the day, Simmons capably filled in for Kimbrel, who was unavailable because he had pitched each of the previous three days. The 23-year-old hurler surrendered a leadoff single to Marcell Ozuna and then got Adeiny Hechavarria to hit a double-play grounder to shortstop Andrelton Simmons. After putting two more on base, the rookie induced another grounder to the shortstop, who promptly ended the game with a flip to second base.
"It's kind of surreal," Shae Simmons said. "I feel like it hasn't even happened. I feel like I wasn't even out there. Now that it's over with, I can kind of ease my mind. I got through my first couple of appearances OK. Hopefully I just continue to work and get better from here."
The Braves certainly left Miami feeling much better than they had when they had arrived in the wee hours of Friday morning, still sporting the damage created by four straight losses to the Red Sox.
"That's great character shown by our club," Gonzalez said. "We didn't play real well at home or on the road against Boston. We lose that tough one [on Thursday] and get here at 4:30 in the morning ,and we came out and probably played about as good of a series as we've played in a while."
Aaron Harang set the tone in this series finale as he surrendered a two-run home run to Ozuna in the second inning and then held the Marlins scoreless during the remainder of his 6 2/3 innings. His outing proved to be much more pleasurable than the one he experienced at Marlins Park on April 30, when he surrendered a career-high nine earned runs in 4 2/3 innings and bid adieu to the 0.85 ERA he had produced in this season's first six starts.
"They are a good team and they don't get cheated when they are up there," Harang said. "When they're up there swinging at stuff over the plate, they swing hard. I was able to make some pitches when I needed to. My outfielders were having to run a little bit today, but they were out there getting the job done."
Harang exited after Christian Yelich doubled with two outs in the seventh. Alex Wood ended that threat with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Ed Lucas, and the lefty worked a scoreless eighth inning.
The efficiency of Harang and Wood soured the performance produced by Marlins starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who limited the damage during his eight innings to a pair of runs the Braves manufactured after Tommy La Stella and Andrelton Simmons began the game-tying third with consecutive singles. Eovaldi has allowed just three earned runs in 21 innings against the Braves this season.
"I'm really, really proud of our ballclub," Gonzalez said.