Cubs manager David Ross joked in the dugout during Thursday’s game against the Pirates how Craig Kimbrel would have to earn his second save of the season.
“He definitely earned that one today, for sure,” Ross said, smiling.
And in doing so, Kimbrel hit a milestone, picking up the 350th save of his career in a 4-2 Cubs win.
Kimbrel entered in the eighth inning in place of Dan Winkler, who walked the bases loaded with one out. The Cubs were clinging to a 4-2 lead before their closer slammed the door with two strikeouts to end the threat.
Kimbrel returned to the mound in the ninth, shutting down Pittsburgh 1-2-3, and adding another strikeout, to hit the milestone, which also happened to be the first five-out save of his career.
“It was a game saver,” Ross said, congratulating Kimbrel on the achievement. … “For him to come in and get five outs was big and helped us secure a big win there.”
Kimbrel, the active all-time saves leader, is just the 12th pitcher ever to hit the 350 mark. He also ranks 12th all-time in saves, eight behind former Angels and Rays pitcher Troy Percival.
The right-hander said he knew last season he was close to No. 350 but had no idea he was one save away entering Thursday. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo told him after the final out.
“I said, ‘Oh, OK,’” Kimbrel recalled, laughing. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
The right-hander credited the milestone to playing on good teams and being put in the right position 350 times. But the closer who joined the Cubs on a Hall of Fame trajectory deserves plenty of credit.
Kimbrel has gone through trials and tribulations at various points with the Cubs, losing the closer’s role last season before bouncing back down the stretch.
His early success this season (4 2/3 innings, no hits, no walks, nine strikeouts) is only a reminder of his track record.
“Let's take a moment to appreciate just the greatness of Craig Kimbrel and what he's been able to do over the course of his career,” starter Jake Arrieta said postgame. “Three-hundred fifty saves is truly remarkable.
“He's got 95 to 98 with a wipeout slider. He's not fazed by anything,” Arrieta added. “Just an incredibly difficult at-bat from right-handed batter, left-handed batter — doesn't matter.
"He's a special one, and we're fortunate to have him."
Arrieta noted Kimbrel might end up finishing first all-time in saves by the end of his playing career. For now, Kimbrel is eyeing his next outing.
“Let’s focus on 351 and then go from there,” he said, smiling.