Craig Kimbrel

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

Craig Kimbrel nearly cost Red Sox game with wild ninth inning vs. Yankees

John Tomase
October 10, 2018 - 1:13 am

Amidst the euphoria of New York, New York, and Chris Sale saving the day, and champagne popping in the Red Sox clubhouse was this downer -- what the hell happened to Craig Kimbrel?

The All-Star closer, who periodically battled command issues throughout the season, nearly let Tuesday's ALDS-clinching 4-3 victory over the Yankees slip away.

He loaded the bases in the ninth with a 4-1 lead and allowed two runs to score before retiring Gleyber Torres on a bang-bang play at first that survived a replay review.

"Well, it got a little exciting there at the end," Kimbrel admitted. "We got three runs there and the goal is to come off the field with a win and we were able to do it."

The Red Sox could've done with a little less excitement. Kimbrel opened the ninth with a four-pitch walk to Aaron Judge, who had already homered off Kimbrel in the ninth inning of Game 1, before allowing a two-strike single to Didi Gregorius.

Slugger Giancarlo Stanton, awful all series, swung at a pair of curveballs nowhere near the plate to give Kimbrel a little breathing room, but he walked Luke Voit and hit Neil Walker with a pitch to force in a run.

"He wasn't the usual Craig Kimbrel," conceded manager Alex Cora, "but he got three outs, and he closed out the game."

Except he nearly didn't. With a full count on slugging catcher Gary Sanchez, Kimbrel left a 98 mph fastball over the heart of the plate and Sanchez barely got under it, sending it to deep left field for a sacrifice fly.

"One pitch at a time," Kimbrel said. "Got a big strikeout of Stanton and the 3-2 to Sanchez was pretty nerve-wracking but it got to the second out and we were able to get through it."

The game ended on Torres' slow roller to third, where a charging Eduardo Nunez fielded and made a strong throw to nip the hustling rookie by half a step. The Yankees challenged, but it wasn't that close.

"We were pretty confident he was out," Kimbrel said. "Once we saw it on the board, it was a little sigh of relief and we could come in here and celebrate."