ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel missed much of spring training when he was back in Boston for his infant daughter’s second heart surgery and her recovery.
Before the team departed last week for what matches their longest scheduled trip this season, and before he got his 300th career save quicker than anyone in MLB history, Kimbrel had 6-month-old Lydia Joy at Fenway Park.
“She was smiling,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “The way he’s carrying her, it’s unreal what he’s doing.”
Kimbrel got his 300th save Saturday night, about three weeks before his 30th birthday, in his 494th career game and 330th save opportunity.
After a perfect ninth to close out a 6-5 win at Texas, exactly eight years to the day after he first got called up to the majors, the hard-throwing righty was greeted in the clubhouse by extended applause from his teammates.
“They clapped for a long time. It was nice to have these guys behind me, to show their appreciation for me is really neat,” Kimbrel said. “Everything I do every night is go out there and make sure what they do counts.”
Cora described the reception for Kimbrel as emotional.
“We know what he’s been going through for a long, long time, since spring training. This team got together around him, and there’s a lot of good things happening and we’re very proud of him,” Cora said. “There’s more positive things happening for him off the field than actually on the field, and he’s been great on the field. That gives us a lot of energy.”
Kimbrel has converted nine of 10 save chances and has a 1.23 ERA in his 15 appearances this season. He has allowed only seven hits and two runs in 14 2-3 innings, with 21 strikeouts and four walks.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said it was special sharing the moment with his teammate, especially after all Kimbrel has been through off the field.
“Obviously that’s a whole lot more bigger than baseball,” Bradley said. “So I think it’s just amazing and a testament to how hard that he works, that he was able to still come back here and still compete at a very high level like we all know he can. That’s special to watch him compete out there.”
Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera got his 300th save in his 537th career appearance, while Joe Nathan got his in his 335th save opportunity and Francisco Rodriguez at age 31. Kimbrel surpassed all of them.
It was his 75th save with the Red Sox, who acquired the six-time All-Star in a trade from San Diego after the 2015 season. Kimbrel had 186 saves for the Braves in 2010-14 and 39 with the Padres during the season he got to spend around Trevor Hoffman, who along with Rivera are the only players with more than 600 career saves.
“I got to talk to him quite a bit, got to know him,” Kimbrel said. “He’s an awesome guy. I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with him out there.”
Kimbrel is the 29th major league player with 300 career saves, and he leads that group by converting 91 percent of his saves, along with his 1.78 ERA, 14.72 strikeouts per nine innings and .155 batting average by opponents.
The only active pitcher with more saves is Minnesota’s Fernando Rodney with 304. Rodney is 41 years old and playing his 16th season. But Kimbrel is only about halfway to Rivera (652 saves) and Hoffman (601).
“It’s very impressive. The number in itself is impressive, but the number of years they were able to play the game and stay effective and keep that role, that says a lot,” Kimbrel said. “Those are guys that as a baseball player growing up and now as a reliever, you look up to what they’ve done and how they did it, and it’s very impressive.”
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