Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel is one a Hall of Fame path
By Earl Nash
It will be a decade or more before Red Sox closer, Craig Kimbrel, can be considered for election into the Hall of Fame, but fans are optimistic.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and some Red Sox Nation rooters are already saying you’re a cinch for the Hall of Fame.
And it makes you smile and laugh and think that you won’t be eligible for at least a decade and you know there are a lot of injuries to be avoided and Ks on flash cards stuck on the wall at Fenway and SVs to be recorded before it could ever happen.
Still, you feel humble, even honored, to be mentioned with former Red Sox pitchers who are in the Hall: Dennis Eckersley, Pedro Martinez, Cy Young and others like Bobby Doerr—what a wonderful man—and Wade Boggs and, of course, “The Splendid Splinter,” “Teddy Ballgame”—the nonpareil hitter, Ted Williams.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and you recall that story about Williams from the book Sporting Lives: Metaphor and Myth in American Sports Autobiographies. When asked why he didn’t hang on longer in the game, Williams said he wanted “to be remembered for what I was at the top of my game.”
You’re Craig Kimbrel and you can’t help but wonder how much longer you will be in the game; some relievers make it into their 40’s…Heck, Mariano Rivera was 43 when he retired after 19 seasons, and he was probably the best closer ever.
And you recall that you once read his records:
His record saves totals of 652 in the regular season and 42 in the postseason. His 82-60 record with a 2.21 ERA during the regular season over 19 years, and his 8-1 record with a 0.70 ERA in 96 postseason games.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and you can’t help but wonder: What if you could make it another 10 years? You’ll be 30 next May. You have racked up 291 saves; about 41 per season. Let’s see, you need 362 saves to top Rivera; that’s about 37 per season for the next decade and your average, so far, is 41…Then you remember that, according to the JAWS rating, you are No. 66 on the Jaffe Hall of Fame list.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and the guys in the game call you “Dirty C” and some poke fun at the way you dangle your right arm when you take your sign. They say you look like a bat or sheep smuggler and they call it “Kimbreling” or “Spider Arms.” A lot of guys think you do it to be intimidating and that’s just fine with you.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and you remember back in 2010 when you had a sore right shoulder and you started hanging it out and down as a way to stretch it out, to keep it loose. Then, the soreness left, but the habit remained. You’re glad that some batters may be paying more attention to that than what pitch you’ll throw or what part of the zone you are targeting.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and there were a few rough patches last season, but you also recall May 11, 2017, against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, when you struck out the side in the ninth inning on nine consecutive pitches. After the game in the clubhouse, the writers told you that you had joined Pedro Martínez and Clay Buchholz as the only pitchers in Red Sox franchise history to accomplish this feat, and they called it an immaculate inning.
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You’re Craig Kimbrel and these two years with the Red Sox have been great, but during that first season after being traded to Boston from the San Diego Padres, you will never forget July 8, 2016, when you injured your knee while taking warmups.
The next day, an MRI revealed a tear in the medial meniscus of your left knee. Then the surgery, and several weeks to recover; you ended your first season with the Red Sox with a 3.40 ERA. Still, you managed 31 saves.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and going into the 2017 season, for luck, you changed your walk-up song from your signature “Welcome to the Jungle” to Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold”. And it worked. You put up 35 saves.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and you look back and think, imagine, a kid who grew up in Alabama rooting for the Braves, drafted in the 33rd round in 2007 and again in the third round in 2008, who signed out of Wallace State Community College being mentioned for the Hall of Fame.
In the minors, catchers kept telling you that you “threw hard” and there was something special about your heater. You realized back then that it kind of jumps up in the zone late.
You’re Craig Kimbrel and now there is talk about how starters may only be expected to go five innings; that will mean that to get the ball to you in the 9th with the Sox leading, that new role—the 6th inning guy—will become key to success.
Back in Eck’s day, the “closer” was becoming a thing. Then, the 8th inning pitcher was the “Set Up” guy. It seems the 7th inning guy never got a title, but they did create the Hold stat to record his effort.
So, if the starter goes five innings and the Sox have a lead, it’s up to three guys to hold it, until you get a chance to close the game for a Save.
Next: Red Sox 2017 Review: Top 10 moments of the year
You’re Craig Kimbrel and dreaming, just dreaming early, about being elected into the Hall of Fame. It is fun to dream about it, but you remember that there are two kinds of players: ones who are humble and ones who are about to become humble.