That would be the life of Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.
Both of them did their duty on Tuesday night in Atlanta’s first visit to Kansas City. Medlen outpitched the Royals’ Ervin Santana to position himself for the win, and Kimbrel survived a shaky ninth to preserve a 4-3 victory in the opener of their two-game series.
“You know how stressful it is trying to locate 89 every pitch?” Medlen deadpanned. “It’s not very fun, but it’s a tough skill to do. It’s why I’m hanging around.”
Why he’s excelling, too. Medlen (5-7) improved to 4-1 in June. The victory wasn’t without drama once he left the game, though.
Jordan Walden had to pitch around a leadoff walk to get out of the eighth inning, and Kimbrel got into the same trouble in the ninth. But he did one worse, allowing a single to David Lough and letting him swipe second base to put the go-ahead run in scoring position with nobody out.
Kimbrel recovered to strike out Elliot Johnson and Jarrod Dyson, and then intentionally walked Alex Gordon to load the bases for Alcides Escobar. He flied out to right on the first pitch he saw to end the game, giving Kimbrel his 11th straight save and 22nd of the season.
“Whenever you walk the leadoff batter in a one-run ballgame,” he said, “it puts you in a sticky situation, but we were able to work out of it.”
Jason Heyward drove in a pair of runs with a double in the fifth, and then broke a seventh-inning tie with his solo shot off Tim Collins (2-2). It was his sixth homer of the season.
Eric Hosmer hit a two-run homer in the fifth for the Royals.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Johnson said. “We didn’t make the most of them.”
In a curious twist to interleague play, the Royals had played 142 games against NL teams at Kauffman Stadium without a visit by Atlanta. If not for last year’s All-Star Game at the K, longtime Braves third baseman Chipper Jones would have retired having never played in the park.
Their debut wound up being dominated by pitching.
The Royals scratched out their first run off Medlen in the first when Alex Gordon reached on a single, took second on an error and went to third on a sacrifice bunt. But he was caught in a rundown on a grounder by Hosmer, who reached second before Gordon was tagged out.
Hosmer scored on Billy Butler’s ensuing single.
That was all the Royals would muster off Medlen until Escobar managed a two-out single in the fifth. The resurgent Hosmer followed with his tying two-run shot over the right-field wall, his fourth home run of the season but third in 10 games.
It proved to be timely, too, coming just after the Braves pulled ahead.
Ervin Santana had struck out five through the first three innings, but began running into trouble the second time through the Braves’ power-packed lineup. But it wasn’t home runs that gave them the lead, but a series of singles and doubles.
Chris Johnson led off the fifth with a double, and Andrelton Simmons put runners on the corners with his base hit. Jordan Schafer tied the game 1-all on his double, and Heyward’s double down the right-field line gave the Braves a 3-1 lead.
“I felt very good the whole game,” Santana said. “I just missed a couple of pitches, and they made good adjustments on them.”
Heyward didn’t hit his double particularly hard. The homer off Collins was crushed.
Heyward greeted a 0-2 pitch from the Royals’ diminutive left-hander with a ferocious swing, sending the ball soaring over the wall in right field and giving the Braves a 4-3 lead.
“I was just looking for a pitch in the zone to hit,” he said. “Looking for a pitch in the zone to hit right there and try not to miss it. Put a good swing on it.”
A good enough swing to give Kimbrel a chance to create some ninth-inning drama.
“It’s not the way you draw it up,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the living-on-the-edge save, “but we’ll take it.”
Notes: The Braves began the day with 96 homers, tied with Colorado for first in the National League. They’re now 41-9 when they hit a homer and 4-23 when they do not. ... Braves OF Justin Upton was the DH after missing two games with a sore right hand. ... The Royals recalled LHP Will Smith and optioned RHP Kelvin Herrera to Triple-A Omaha. ... LHP Mike Minor pitches for the Braves on Wednesday night. RHP Luis Mendoza goes for the Royals on Wednesday night.