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ATLANTA – Craig Kimbrel felt like this was going to be a special night, so he wanted about 30 to 40 family members and friends from Alabama to watch him reach a rare milestone.
The hard-throwing closer became the eighth pitcher in major league history to make 400 saves as the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Atlanta Braves 6-4 on Friday.
“I’m glad it was here in Atlanta,” said Kimbrel, who began his career with the Braves. “I’m glad the majority of my family was here to see it. It’s great to take it in and enjoy it.”
Kimbrel, 34, made his 730th career appearance and worked a scoreless ninth inning to get his sixth save in six chances this season. Of the seven previous relievers who made 400 saves, only Mariano Rivera (697 games), Trevor Hoffman (706) and Kenley Jansen (778) reached the milestone in less than 800 appearances.
Kimbrel, the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year, played his first five seasons in Atlanta, was a four-time All-Star with the Braves, and still holds the franchise record with 186 saves. This is his first season with Philadelphia. In his last 15 games since April 16, Kimbrel faced 54 batters and struckout 26 in 14 innings, but the righthander struggled at times this year with a 5.68 ERA.
Kimbrel grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, about three hours from Atlanta, and it was with the Braves that he broke through as one of the game’s most feared relievers. An eight-time All-Star, he helped the Boston Red Sox win the 2018 World Series.
He said he never intended to break records or join exclusive lists, but his career has worked out pretty well.
“My goal is to show up and get ready to take those opportunities as much as possible,” said Kimbrel. “Always knowing I was shutting down games, I was hoping to get 35 to 40 a year doing my job, and that’s about it. It’s one year at a time, one rescue at a time.”
Brandon Marsh hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the sixth for Philadelphia.
Facing reliever Joe Jiménez (0-1) with the bases loaded, Marsh made it 4-3 with a single into left field that scored Nick Castellanos and JT Realmuto. The Phillies scored twice in the seventh off Lucas Luetge on Trea Turner’s RBI double and Bryce Harper’s sac-fly.
The NL-leading Braves fell to 31-20. Philadelphia, which last year tied for fourth in the NL East after advancing to the World Series, is 24-27. The Phillies are seven games behind Atlanta in the standings.
For Kimbrel, the evening was special because he got to celebrate with so many loved ones.
“They’ve always supported me,” he said. “A lot of them said, ‘This feels weird celebrating here in Atlanta.’ It brought back a lot of memories, hanging out with the same group of people in the tunnel after the game and catching up.”
He said he wasn’t even nervous when he came out of the bullpen, and he finished the game by knocking out Ronald Acuna Jr. on a grounder to third base with a runner up.
“No, I was pretty locked up,” Kimbrel said. “I mean I’ve had a lot of chances to think about it. I’ve been pretty close to this milestone for a while now and I’ve been able to throw the ball just fine lately. I was really just worried about getting the win tonight, and once the final zero was made, I was able to relax.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.