Craig Kimbrel tabs first save as Cubs closer in Chicago's dramatic win

by - Senior Writer -
Closer Craig Kimbrel made his Chicago Cubs debut on Thursday and came away with a save. (Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports)
Closer Craig Kimbrel made his Chicago Cubs debut on Thursday and came away with a save. (Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports)

CHICAGO — With Cookie Monster on hand to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, it was only appropriate that there was a lot to digest in the series finale between the Chicago Cubs (44-37) and the Atlanta Braves (48-34). With Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel being added to the roster prior to the game and picking up his first save as a North Sider against his former team, the contest was already interesting enough. Combining that interesting storyline with the fact that Kimbrel's save capped off the Cubs' largest comeback of the season made the 9-7 slugfest all the more compelling.

Trailing 6-1 at one point, the Cubs were able to put together a 3-run fourth and a 4-run fifth that washed away their deficit and gave them the lead for good against the Braves. The pandemonium that took place in the potential playoff preview was foreshadowed by a leadoff blast hit by Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber. For the fifth time this season, Schwarber went yard in the Cubs' first at-bat of the game, as he hammered a screamer out to right that put the Cubs up 1-0 in the bottom of the first. Neither starting pitcher fared particularly well on the mound, as the Cubs' Tyler Chatwood, who made his second start since replacing the injured Kyle Hendricks in the rotation, and Braves rookie Bryse Wilson gave up six hits and six runs apiece.

Chatwood was taken for one run in the second inning, with Ozzie Albies continuing to perform at a high level against Cubs pitching by smacking an RBI single. In the ensuing frame, Dansby Swanson hit an RBI double off the wall in right-center that was followed by a 2-run home run from Freddie Freeman. The Braves led 4-1 at that point, and a 2-run single off the bat of Swanson in the top of the fourth made the score 6-1. Chatwood lasted five innings, in which he recorded five strikeouts.

As for Wilson, he pitched well until unraveling in the bottom of the fourth. Following a walk of Anthony Rizzo and a double from Javier Baez, current Cubs and former Braves outfielder Jason Heyward collected two of his three RBI manufactured on the afternoon with a 2-run liner hit up the middle. Later in the inning, after Carlos Gonzalez was ejected from the contest for arguing a strike-three call, Heyward came home to score on a Wilson wild pitch, thereby pulling the Cubs to within two runs of the Braves. Heyward, who played with Kimbrel in Atlanta, went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBI on the day.

Wilson remained in the game to pitch the bottom of the fifth, and he combined with Braves reliever Josh Tomlin in allowing Atlanta's lead to dissipate and Chicago's lead to come to fruition. Following a misplayed fly ball hit by Kris Bryant that enabled Bryant to reach second, Rizzo took advantage of the error by skying an RBI ground-rule double against Wilson that descended in fair territory down the left-field line before bounding into the seats. Two at-bats after that, Heyward powered a triple to deep center off Tomlin that scored Rizzo and led to Victor Caratini clobbering a 407-foot 2-run bomb out to right-center only a few pitches later. Coming all the way back from being down 6-1, the Cubs led 8-6 at that point, and they were able to maintain their advantage the rest of the way.

Albies kicked off the sixth with a 423-foot solo no-doubter that cut the Braves' deficit in half. The Cubs were able to get that run back, though, as Daniel Descalso scored as a result of a passed ball suffered by Braves catcher Tyler Flowers in the bottom of the sixth. Entering to a chorus of cheers from the Cubs faithful in the top of the ninth, Kimbrel, who pitched for the Braves from 2010 to 2014, wasted no time in garnering his first strikeout with the Cubs, as a livid Brian McCann was rung up on a questionable third strike in the first plate appearance of the ninth. Kimbrel then drew a groundout before giving up a pair of baserunners with two outs. A mound visit ensued, and Kimbrel gathered himself with the potential go-ahead run at the plate.

Kimbrel's first save might not have been possible without the wherewithal of Rizzo, with the gutsy first baseman fielding a hard-hit chopper slapped down the first baseline by fellow first baseman Freeman and racing to beat Freeman to the bag. In dramatic fashion, Rizzo dove for first base and was able to swipe the bag with his mitt just in the nick of time, which earned him an appreciative hug from Kimbrel. The thrilling 9-7 victory marked the most substantial come-from-behind win that the Cubs, who trailed by five runs early on, have registered this season. It also secured a series split in the 4-game set and sent the Bleacher Bums home in good spirits in what served as the final home game for the Cubs before the All-Star break.

Atlanta Braves at Chicago Cubs
Jun 27, 2019 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Atlanta (48-34) 0 1 3 2 0 1 0 0 0 7 8 1
Chicago (44-37) 1 0 0 3 4 1 0 0 - 9 10 0
W: Tyler Chatwood (4-1) L: Josh Tomlin (1-1) S: Craig Kimbrel (1)

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