By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Two major takeaways came out of the ninth inning at Fenway Park on Thursday night.
The first? Craig Kimbrel is dangerously good.
The second? MLB umpires are at times horrifically bad.
In the top of the ninth inning, not only did Nomar Mazara miss a Kimbrel breaking ball — so did home plate umpire Chad Fairchild. The pitch broke in on the lefty and pinballed off his ankle as he swung and missed, sending the ball bouncing toward the visiting dugout. Mazara played it off like a wild pitch and ran to first; Fairchild let it happen.
After much debate and arguing from Sox manager John Farrell, the umpire’s call actually stood despite being obviously wrong, giving the Rangers a base runner they never should have gotten.
But for Kimbrel, it didn’t matter. He followed up the botched call by striking out Jonathan Lucroy (looking), Rougned Odor (swinging) and Mike Napoli (swinging).
Kimbrel recorded four strikeouts, and he needed just 19 pitches to do it. As a result, Red Sox pitchers recorded 20 strikeouts in the game, tying an MLB record.
After the 6-2 win, Farrell explained that the umpires told him the play was not reviewable — a claim which he disagreed with.
“I still to this moment don’t know why that ruling came down,” Farrell said. “It doesn’t matter what side of the baseball you’re on. A hit by pitch is reviewable.”
For Kimbrel, the extra strikeout continues him on a path of complete and utter dominance. In 20.2 innings spread out over 20 appearances, Kimbrel has a 0.87 ERA, a ridiculous 0.387 WHIP, 40 strikeouts and just two walks.
Among MLB pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, Kimbrel ranks first in WHIP by a wide margin. Minnesota’s Jose Berrios ranks second at 0.554. Kimbrel ranks first in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 20.0, and first in strikeouts-per-nine at 17.42. He’s tied for fifth in ERA and he’s also tied for the MLB lead in saves.
Zooming out a bit at the larger picture, Kimbrel is on the precipice of a rather significant milestone for a closer. As noted by HeroHabit.com, Kimbrel needs just four more saves to pass Trevor Hoffman for setting the record for most saves recorded in a pitcher’s first eight seasons. Considering Kimbrel is coming off a relative “down” year, that’s an impressive place to be.
As for this year, it’s not even June, and he’s already recorded an immaculate inning and a four-strikeout inning. Nobody knows what will come next … especially the poor hitters tasked with standing in the batter’s box.