Kimbrel dominates American League batters
Closer strikes out side in seventh; Freeman records first All-Star Game hit
MINNEAPOLIS -- While enjoying the honor of being an All-Star during each of his first four full Major League seasons, Craig Kimbrel has never shied away from the chance to get to know some of the National League's top offensive stars.
Whatever friendliness he shows while spending a couple days as their teammate will not trump the intimidation factor he can instantly regain with his high octane heater and commanding mound presence.
"I talk to everybody," Kimbrel said. "I tell them they're either going to get a fastball or a curveball. They know that. I'm not trying to set you up. If they do ask, I might tell them I'm working on a changeup or something."
Kimbrel certainly wasn't tipping anything as he recorded three strikeouts in the scoreless seventh inning he produced during Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Target Field. The Braves' closer might have completed the inning in perfect fashion had his Atlanta teammate Freddie Freeman not fumbled Alexei Ramirez's one-out grounder.
"It got Craig to be able to get another strikeout with me making that error," Freeman said with a laugh. "I did that for him."
Other than the fact that the American League claimed a 5-3 win, there was plenty of reason for the Braves' participants to be smiling at the end of a memorable night. Freeman singled in his first All-Star Game at-bat and Kimbrel took advantage of the chance to shine on a big stage.
Julio Teheran, the Braves' other All-Star representative, was not permitted to pitch because he had started on Sunday. However, the 23-year-old hurler experienced his thrill as he participated in Tuesday afternoon's Chevrolet Red Carpet Parade.
"That was the most fun I've had here," Teheran said. "You get to see everybody and hear them yelling my name. That's cool. It made me feel proud and like a star."
Kimbrel certainly looked like he legitimized his star status as he got Derek Norris, Brandon Moss and Ian Kinsler to swing through third-strike pitches. Kinsler had also been one of the victims when Kimbrel struck out the only two batters he faced during the 2012 Midsummer Classic. This year's outing was certainly more memorable than the one Kimbrel experienced last year when he surrendered hits to three of the first four hitters he faced and ended up allowing what stands as the only run he has allowed in three All-Star Game innings.
"No runs scored, and that was what was most important," Kimbrel said. "Three strikeouts just makes it a little sweeter."
Freeman ended the sixth inning with a tremendous stretch to complete a defensive gem Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon began by sliding through the outfield grass. The first baseman then provided a brief scare when he reached into the stands to get a foul ball and bumped his side on the wall. As he made his way back to his position, Freeman playfully signaled to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez that he was hurt and then shared a laugh with Kimbrel. Gonzalez, who was an NL coach, smiled and patted his right hand near his heart.
"The ball he went after over in the stands, he made everyone a little nervous," Kimbrel said. "I was like, just calm down a little bit."
Before he settled down, Freeman allowed Ramirez's grounder to climb up his left glove arm. But the error was an afterthought when Freeman singled through the right side off Sean Doolittle with one out in the eighth inning.
Recording a hit in his first at-bat allowed Freeman to distance himself from the frustration he felt last year, when he gained his first All-Star selection and then incurred a left thumb injury that prevented him from playing.
"That's a special moment," Freeman said. "I was just trying to make contact really. My hands were shaking a little bit. But once I swung 1-0 and got that one out of the way, everything kind of calmed down after that."
Now that they have experienced a few hectic and memorable days at the All-Star Game, the Braves' contingent will head back to Atlanta to rest for a couple days. They'll be back to business on Friday as they face the Phillies and attempt to at least remain tied with the Nationals atop the National League East.
"You obviously want to be winning your division, but it's not a bad thing to be tied," Kimbrel said. "We match up with [the Nationals] a lot during the second half, so those are going to be the really important games that we play."