White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel has seven playoff saves in his career, including one in the World Series. He’s been referred to as a “future Hall of Famer” since his mid-20s. This season, he earned his eighth All-Star nod.
Kimbrel also the gave up the two hits that turned the tide in the White Sox’ 9-4 loss to the Astros on Friday, in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. The South Siders return to Chicago down 2-0 in the series, making every game from hereon out a potential elimination game.
“His resume speaks for itself,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Friday. “… It’s not an explanation or an excuse. You take it to heart. It’s not his situation. He willingly got ready to come in here and pitch. It’s a different situation.”
The situation was one out, with two runners on base in the seventh inning. White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer had taken the mound to start the frame. He struck out one and induced three ground balls, but all three of those grounders made it through the infield for base hits.
La Russa called upon Kimbrel to get the final two outs of the inning.
Kimbrel’s season has been a tale of two halves. He started the season as the Cubs closer, posting a 0.49 ERA and 23 saves. Since the White Sox acquired him at the deadline, Kimbrel has posted a 5.09, primarily in a setup role.
According to Kimbrel, however, his struggles had nothing to do with the inning in which he was pitching. He did, after all, log a spotless 0.00 ERA in September 2020, after forfeiting his closer spot. He was battling mechanical issues again, he said, getting too rotational. That was throwing his fastball, especially, out of whack.
After diagnosing the problem, Kimbrel did improve, allowing four runs total in his last 11 outings of the regular season.
Then, Friday happened.
In his first playoff appearance of 2021, Kimbrel induced a flyout from the first batter he faced, Yuli Gurriel. The right-hander started Gurriel off with two curveballs at the bottom of the zone and then came back with a high heater for the out. Vintage Kimbrel.
Carlos Correa was up next, and Kimbrel fell behind in the count. He threw three straight fastballs to Correa: Whiff, ball three, line drive.
White Sox right fielder Leury García, who had played the first six innings of the game at second base, got a bad read on the ball and took an awkward route to it. But Correa hit a rocket, its exit velocity clocked at 106.1 mph, the highest of any Astros hits all game. Two runs scored on the double.
Kyle Tucker followed Correa with a two-run knock of his own, a homer over Minute Maid Park's tall left field wall. Tucker hit Kimbrel's 0-1 curveball an estimated 374 feet.
The White Sox went from being down by one run when Kimbrel entered, to being down by five by the time he recorded the final out of the inning.
“He is his resume,” La Russa said of Kimbrel. “I hope we’re ahead on Sunday, and I think you’ll see what he’s done his whole career.”