Craig Kimbrel's First Save as a Cub Was Wild and Wonderful and the First of Many

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Craig Kimbrel’s First Save as a Cub Was Wild and Wonderful and the First of Many

Chicago Cubs

Earlier today, the Chicago Cubs FINALLY activated their big mid-season acquisition, closer Craig Kimbrel, and he was immediately called upon for a very big save spot in the ninth. But before we get into all the goodness during and after his outing, I want to talk briefly about what happened before he took the mound, because it has as much to do with his overall impact as when he’s actually twirling the rock.

This afternoon, the Cubs fell to an early 6-1 lead, but managed to battle back and grab an 8-6 lead of their own heading into the top of the 6th inning. And that’s where everything was different. With Craig Kimbrel lined up to take the 9th, Joe Maddon was able to shift all of his relievers down an inning and that proved crucial to the outcome of the game. So instead of using a lesser reliever when things were getting high-leveragy, Maddon was able to go Steve Cishek-Brandon Kintzler-Pedro Strop and finally Craig KImbrel. That’s a HUGE change for the 7th and 8th innings, especially, to say nothing of what it means to the 9th.

But speaking of the ninth, let’s relive it, starting with a few looks at his entrance out of the bullpen:

Not a bad standing ovation there, eh? Cubs fans we’re clearly ready for this guy to finally debut:

And for the most part, he delivered.

When you look at the final box score, it looks like Kimbrel had a (mostly) perfectly fine, if imperfect ninth: 1.0 IP, 1H, 0ER, 1BB, 1K. But the reality is things got a little dramatic. After striking out Brian McCann (who wasn’t happy about the called third), Kimbrel quickly brought Johan Camargo to two strikes before he grounded out to the second baseman. And just like that, the Cubs new closer was one out away from his first (and entirely unblemished) save.

But nothing comes that easy. Not in Chicago. Not in the ninth.

Ronald Acuna followed Camargo with a ground-rule double to left field and then Kimbrel walked Dansby Swanson on four straight pitches, never coming that close to the strike zone. Suddenly, his unblemished outing included the tying run at first base and go-ahead run at the plate. I was nervous. I think we all were.

But on the very first pitch of the next at-bat, Kimbrel got a dangerous hitter, Freddie Freeman, to ground out to first base. Of course, even that was an adventure of its own – one that required its own post – but all’s well that ends well, right? I think so.

Here’s him talking about his debut and the Rizzo play after the game.

What a save, what a game. What an idea …


The Cubs have a closer. I love it.

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami