HOUSTON — It’s been clear all postseason that Craig Kimbrel’s fastball has been wild and his vicious breaking ball wasn’t getting bites.
Entering last night, the results had been horrendous. Opponents were hitting .385 off his fastball. They weren’t swinging at the breaking ball. And Kimbrel had allowed at least one run all four times he’s pitched.
Finally, he fixed the problem.
Kimbrel threw a hitless ninth inning to close out the Red Sox’ 4-1 win over the Astros to punch their ticket to the World Series, which begins Tuesday at Fenway Park.
“We knew he was tipping his pitches yesterday, and we knew he was going to be fine,” manager Alex Cora said. “You saw his hands today. Yesterday they were up, today they were down. He’s been tipping his pitches for two weeks.”
Said Kimbrel, “We found a few things last night after the game. Some stuff I’ve been struggling with for a while. I feel like I was able to hone it in tonight, get back online and pitch like I’m supposed to.”
Kimbrel was relieved to finally throw a scoreless outing.
“I wouldn’t say my confidence was (shaken),” he said. “I was getting a little frustrated at myself, mad at myself just because I couldn’t get out of some things I’ve been working on. I was able to put it all together tonight.”
Cora thought Kimbrel was tipping his breaking ball, and the numbers backed it up.
Of the 41 breaking balls Kimbrel he threw until last night, only nine (22 percent) had generated swings. During the year, the swing rate on that pitch was 38 percent.
Only five had generated whiffs (12 percent); the whiff rate was 22 percent during the year.
“Although there’s no fastball command, the quality of the sliders are good and they’re not offering,” Cora said. “Either they have a good gameplan or it’s paranoia from my end.”
Kimbrel thinks he’s fixed, and he’s thankful Cora has trusted him.
“You don’t ever want to have doubt,” he said. “There’s been a lot of doubt going around through the season, through the postseason about everyone else but me. I come in the postseason, give up some runs, have some tight innings and there is a lot of talk about that. For him to stick with me, tell me he’s confident in me and say I was his guy, it was great.”
JBJ lands MVP honors
Jackie Bradley Jr. was hitless last night and finished the series 3-for-15, but made his three hits count.
Bradley’s double, two homers and nine RBI were enough to earn him MVP honors of the series.
“I think it kind of just all boils down to having a game plan and obviously executing,” he said. “You can have a game plan but sometimes it might not work out. But as a batter you want to swing at good pitches. You want to swing at pitches you can handle.”
Bradley’s teammates were particularly happy for him given his struggles during the regular season.
“I’m so happy for him,” Mookie Betts said. “We’ve been through the ranks together. It’s one of those things where I can look next to him and know that we’ve been together kind of every step of the way. I knew what kind of player he is. He’s proven it. he definitely proved it this series. He’s not just a glove out there. He can do it all.
“He’s just a normal dude. He’s just a normal dude with freakish talent.”
After Nathan Eovaldi struck out Alex Bregman on a 102-mph fastball in the eighth inning, David Price was seen on the top step of the dugout saying, “Post that.”
Before the series, Bregman posted videos on Instagram of the Astros hitting homers off Eovaldi in June. He later deleted them.
“I don’t have any comment on that, you gotta ask Nate, but I’m not gonna lie it feels pretty good to see that,” Rick Porcello said. “They can keep talking, we’re just going to keep playing.”
The umpiring crew was booed loudly by the fans at Minute Maid Park upon entering the field before last night’s game.
Betts later made another leaping catch at the wall to rob the Astros of extra bases. Fans were seen holding their arms straight in the air rather than reaching out to grab the ball.
Betts said he didn’t hear the fans say anything.
“I didn’t hear anything,” said Betts. “I kind of shut everything out as I’m going to that spot. I didn’t hear much. I didn’t hear anything. I just knew I had to go get it.”
Chris Sale (stomach illness) was feeling better yesterday and is in line to start Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.
“He doesn’t look as skinny as yesterday,” Cora said. “Yesterday I was like, wow, you could see it in his face. But he’s in good spirits, he feels better. He’s eating better, which is great.”
The Red Sox scored 12 runs off the Astros bullpen in the series.
“Our bullpen coach (Craig Bjornson, who worked for ‘Stros last year), he knows a lot about them,” Cora said. “If somebody knows about pitching and the way they attack, it’s that guy in the bullpen. Coming into the series, we had a pretty good idea how they attack and what they do and that really helps.”
Mitch Moreland (hamstring) made his first start of the ALCS last night and went 2-for-4 with a double and run scored. Steve Pearce took a tumble over the dugout railing and almost landed on his head in Game 4, but Cora said Pearce was doing fine and was available.