Wild pitches cost Kimbrel, Braves in ninth vs. Fish

Johnson homers behind solid Harang, but closer allows go-ahead hit

Wild pitches cost Kimbrel, Braves in ninth vs. Fish

ATLANTA -- When the Braves selected Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, they envisioned he would enjoy performances at Turner Field like the one he gave on Thursday night.

Eleven years later, the former Atlanta prospect came back to burn his original team with a three-hit night that included the game-winning knock against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, as Miami took a series-clinching 3-2 victory over Atlanta.

"Ninety-nine [mph]. He's an All-Star closer. He's got great stuff," Saltalamacchia said of what he was looking for. "Really, he has a great idea of what he's doing out there. In that situation, I'm just trying to not get too big and put the ball in play. He threw me a lot of sliders tonight, 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."

Two wild pitches from Kimbrel proved costly, as Marcell Ozuna advanced to first base -- despite striking out with one out in the ninth -- before advancing 90 more feet when Kimbrel fired a fastball over catcher Evan Gattis' head. Saltalamacchia then did the rest, bringing Ozuna home on a single up the middle.

"Not everything goes perfectly every time you go out there," Kimbrel said. "Just got to try to find a way to get through it, and unfortunately we weren't able to do it tonight. I felt pretty good until I hung a curveball and it was hit into center field. Other than that, arm felt good. Ready to go tomorrow night."

Chris Johnson added: "If he comes into a game tomorrow and we have a lead, I'm going to assume that the game's over, because most of time it is."

Kimbrel downplayed the notion that entering the game tied rather than in an save situation affected him. He also entered a tie game on Monday against Miami and loaded the bases before escaping that jam without letting a run score.

"My mentality is to get into the dugout with a tied ballgame in that situation. That's my job," Kimbrel said. "I didn't do that tonight."

The rough ninth spoiled yet another solid outing from Aaron Harang. He gave up just two runs in seven innings for his 18th quality start and his 16th outing allowing two earned runs or fewer. His 3.31 ERA is on track to be a career-best mark.

"He deserved better," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Although he put eight or more men on base for the seventh straight start, the veteran repeatedly worked out of trouble. So did the Atlanta bullpen, as Miami went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

"You're going to give up your hits, but then that's where you've got work around," Harang said. "Either get a guy to hit a weak fly ball or hopefully hit something on the ground that the guys can turn a double play."

The only inning that hurt him was Miami's two-run fifth, which negated the two-run lead created by Johnson's homer in the bottom of the second. It was Johnson's fifth home run in his past 34 plate appearances after he homered only three times in his first 363.

"I can't explain it," Johnson said. "We've been working on a couple of different things in the cage as far as my contact point and things like that, just kind of tweaking with it. But I think that power, I just need to learn how to use it."

Harang issued a leadoff walk to Ozuna and ended up with two runners in scoring position after Saltalamacchia hit the first of his two doubles on the night. Then Adeiny Hechavarria cut Atlanta's lead to 2-1 with an RBI single.

Once opposing pitcher Henderson Alvarez struck out, it appeared Harang would preserve that lead when Christian Yelich hit a sharp grounder to Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella. But Yelich beat the throw to first to prevent a double play and plate a run.

"We just weren't able to pull off that one double play there that would've got me out of the inning with just one, but you've got a fast runner like Yelich," Harang said. "That ball wasn't hit extremely hard, so it gave him a little bit more advantage for him to be able to beat that out."

Alvarez's failure to bunt Hechavarria over to second was one of just a few on the night for the right-hander, as he suffocated the Braves in eight strong innings. Alvarez scattered six hits, walked one and fanned four, allowing just the two runs on Johnson's homer.

"He's tough," Johnson said. "You've got to try to play small ball and take advantage of situations that he gives you. Tonight he didn't give us too many."

As the Braves embark on the final four games of a season-long homestand of 11 games, they sit at 3-4 with the Padres coming to town. Atlanta trails Washington by 1 1/2 games in the NL East, but the Braves know there is plenty of time left with 60 games to go.

"They're a good team. They're going to keep playing good ball, and we've got to turn it around," Johnson said. "We've got to start winning some ballgames and winning some series. If not, then it's going to be a long second half."

Harang added: "We're not worried about it. We still got nine games left with the Nationals, too. So it's still early. There's no reason to panic."

Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.