To put it succinctly, Craig Kimbrel’s 2020 debut went poorly. Throughout his Red Sox tenure, which included a trio of All-Star appearances and a 2018 world championship, the ace closer showed a propensity for drama, frequently walking a ninth-inning tightrope of his own creation. But even by Kimbrel’s erratic standards, Monday’s collapse in Cincinnati was a meltdown of unrivaled proportion.
Appearing for the first time in 2020, Cardiac Craig’s command was nonexistent as the embattled 32-year-old retired just one of the six Reds he encountered before mercifully getting the hook from manager David Ross, a one-time teammate of Kimbrel’s on the Atlanta Braves. Handed a three-run cushion, the once-dominant hurler initiated his own self-destruct sequence Monday night, imploding to the tune of four walks, one hit batsman and a wild pitch. Of Kimbrel’s 34 ninth-inning offerings, only 13 registered as strikes. Thrust into damage control, Jeremy Jeffress successfully put out Kimbrel’s fire, setting down Phillip Ervin and Joey Votto to end the threat as Chicago claimed an entirely too-close-for-comfort 8-7 victory.
Even the great ones have a shelf life and it's fair to wonder if Kimbrel, who yielded an embarrassing nine homers in just 20 2/3 innings of lackluster work last year, is experiencing his own version of planned obsolescence. Or maybe he just had himself a case of the Mondays. For all we know, Kimbrel’s Hindenburg performance in Cincy could just be a blip on his 2020 radar, an outlier in an otherwise pristine year for the Wrigley staple.
But after submitting a concerning 6.23 ERA in 2018, it’s clear the catastrophe-prone Kimbrel has lost the benefit of the doubt, at least among Cubs supporters, who voiced their displeasure in no uncertain terms after the right-hander’s latest blowup.
While Twitter reserved most of its venom for Kimbrel (who surprisingly emerged from quarantine clean-shaven), Ross wasn’t immune to the vitriol, drawing widespread criticism for not pulling the struggling closer sooner.
The Cubs may have earned the win, but with fans calling for the team to put Kimbrel out to pasture and others questioning their rookie manager’s motives, it sure didn’t feel like one.