Kimbrel and Westburg venturing into impressive territories

Craig Kimbrel was unaware of his exact proximity to Hall of Fame closer Lee Smith on one of baseball’s all-time lists until after his most recent appearance.

Kimbrel notched his 16th save Wednesday by retiring the side in order in the ninth inning. He got a called third strike on Atlanta’s Jarred Kelenic, sandwiched by a ground ball and lineout.

Smith ranks third in saves with 478, followed by Francisco Rodríguez with 437 and Kimbrel with 433. But that wasn’t the specific chase.

Kimbrel and Smith were tied for third-most strikeouts by a reliever with 1,225 until an 0-2 heater froze Kelenic.

“Yeah, actually I found out afterward,” Kimbrel said. “Kind of wish I knew before. I would have probably saved the ball.”

The home ballpark doesn’t have a fountain to chuck it into, but the souvenir is gone.

Kimbrel understood that he was getting close to Smith on the strikeout list, but he didn’t know at first that Smith made one start as a rookie with the Cubs in 1981 and five in ’82. Smith spent 18 seasons in the majors and appeared in 1,022 games, including 41 with the Orioles in 1994. The starter strikeouts don’t count.

The significance of the Kelenic at-bat became apparent to Kimbrel when he heard the announcers talking about it on the broadcast.

“That’s an honor,” Kimbrel said. “He’s a guy that’s in the position that I am, that I’ve been in my whole career. He’s a legend. Not just numbers-wise what he was able to do on the field, but who he was as a competitor and what he brought onto the field as an intimidator at the same time.

“To be able to sit here and be able to say I’ve got (more) strikeouts than him is kind of crazy, but it’s an extreme honor.”

Two other Hall of Famers are ahead of Kimbrel. Knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm accumulated 1,363 strikeouts and Rich “Goose” Gossage finished with 1,340.

“That’s a lot,” Kimbrel said, laughing, when considering the distance between himself and Gossage. “Let’s just keep getting outs. Strikeouts are nice and obviously useful in situations, but outs are outs and that’s all I’m worried about right now.”

Nothing wrong with a first-pitch groundout, right?

“Oh, every single time, yeah,” he said. “Maybe working in one strikeout would be nice. I don’t want to become a ground ball pitcher, you know?”

Not always. Kimbrel tossed a scoreless ninth inning last night - ground ball, ground ball, single, strikeout.

* Yesterday’s clubhouse media access also presented an opportunity to quiz Jordan Westburg.

Which player is tied with Yankees superstar Juan Soto this season for most game-winning RBIs by a player 25 years old and younger with seven, according to STATS?

“Colton Cowser,” Westburg said.


“Gunnar Henderson.”



Yes, on the third attempt.

There were no prizes or opportunities to advance to a bonus round. Not even a home version of the game. But thanks for playing.

“Certainly in that situation I try to take it seriously,” he said. “I wouldn’t say ‘take pride in it’ because you never really want to be in it. You’d hope your team is in a situation where it can win easily. But if the situation does come up, I try to take it like it’s win or lose essentially. Certainly a heightened sense of focus and competitiveness that kind of drives me.

“I just like to win. I like to see this group of guys happy and fired up, and so if I have a chance to impact that, I definitely want to come through.”

There’s also something cool about being linked to Soto, who is the same age as Westburg (25) but made his major league debut with the Nationals in 2018.

“He’s certainly more experienced than me,” Westburg said.

“Yeah, it’s cool to see your name up there with some of the greats in the game. It’s a small statistic. It’s certainly like very magnified, right? To get us in that same category, you’ve got to kind of dig deep.

"It’s not really something that I’m gonna walk around with my chest out about, but it is cool. I’m not gonna deny that.”

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