HOUSTON -- Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers threw an "immaculate inning" within one week of each other back in May, each striking out the side on nine pitches for only the 78th and 79th occurrences in Major League Baseball history.
Maybe it was a harbinger that they would be jointly honored in late October as two-time winners of the highest honor for a relief pitcher from MLB and presenting sponsor The Hartford. Kimbrel received the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award, and Jansen collected his second straight Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award, in a news conference Saturday at Minute Maid Park before the Dodgers' 6-2 win in Game 4 of the World Series. Jansen allowed one run in the ninth inning of a non-save situation as L.A. evened the Series.
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The announcement was made by Commissioner Rob Manfred and The Hartford president Doug Elliot. Rivera and Hoffman, who rank first and second on baseball's all-time saves list, continued their tradition of sitting at the dais.
Jansen joined the ceremony in his Dodgers uniform while trying to bring his club its first World Series title since 1988, and his young son accompanied him on his lap. That might have been a show of support for Kimbrel, who accepted his award via a video screen because his wife is expecting the arrival of their first child any day.
"This is awesome. To be recognized as just sitting here with the best relievers in the game, and to sit with Mr. Commissioner, just to be recognized as the best reliever in the game," Jansen said. "I mean, I've just got to thank all the relievers in the game, Craig Kimbrel, all those great closers, by pushing me, just watching how they go about their business and be great. You want to be one of the greatest out there, too."
"I'm sorry I could not be there tonight to receive the Mariano Rivera Award from the man himself, a man that I've always looked up to and always respect," Kimbrel said on the video. "Mr. Commissioner, Trevor, Mariano, Kenley, Mr. Elliot, I wish I could be there with you tonight. Although I'm anticipating my first child to be born, knowing that she could be here any day now, it makes it difficult to get too far away from home."
Jansen became the first pitcher to win either the Rivera or Hoffman Award consecutively in the Award's four-year history. The eighth-year Major Leaguer has been a key cog of one of the best seasons in Dodgers franchise history, as the club set a Los Angeles-era record with 104 wins en route to its fifth consecutive NL West title.
Jansen collected his third career 40-plus-save season (2014, '16 and '17) and joined Eric Gagné (2002-04) as the only pitchers in Dodgers history with three seasons of 40-plus saves. Jansen led all regular relievers with a 1.32 ERA (10 earned runs in 68 1/3 innings) and tied for second in the big leagues in saves (41). He led all NL relievers in WHIP (0.75) and ranked second with 109 strikeouts.
Jansen had the highest cutter usage rate in baseball, 88.4 percent of his pitches during the regular season. And it was usually unhittable. According to Statcast™, he had the lowest xBA allowed among righties (minimum 100 at-bats against) with the tying/go-ahead run on base or at the plate: .141.
Jansen acknowledged that he has to rebound from a tough moment -- his Game 2 blown save that gave Houston its spark.
"Well, you know, you've got to keep trusting in all your 25 guys out there," the closer said. "You can't let one bad day affect your season. You've got to see that you have an awesome season and the fact that how we got here and all that stuff. So you can't let just one game affect your series.
"You've just got to give credit to the hitters. They're going to get lucky once in a while. That's how you have to feel, that's [your confidence]. And I feel like they got lucky that game."
Kimbrel's eighth year in the Majors and second with the Red Sox brought his sixth career All-Star selection, and he became the first to win a Hoffman Award and a Rivera Award. Kimbrel won the NL Award the first year these two honors were presented in 2014 while closing for the Braves.
The veteran led Major League relievers in strikeouts per nine innings (16.43) and WHIP (0.68), and he tied for first in strikeouts (126). That whiff total was the most for a Boston reliever in a season since Dick Radatz struck out 181 in 1964.
"I want to thank everyone who was involved in voting for this, all the legends and Hall of Famers who made this happen," Kimbrel said. "Getting respect from ex-players who have done this means a lot to me. [And] I have to thank my teammates and coaching staff for everything they've done for me. This may be an individual award, but it's not an award that an individual can do on his own."
Kimbrel led AL relievers in ERA (1.43), was second in strikeouts-to-walks ratio (9.0) and opponents average (.140), and was third in saves (35). It was Kimbrel's third career 100-strikeout season, and he finished just one K shy of his career high (127) set in 2011, his first full Major League campaign. With Boston in 2016-17, Kimbrel has converted 66 of 72 save opportunities (91.6 percent), including 35 of 39 this year.
"We congratulate Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen for being named this year's Reliever of the Year Award winners and applaud them for their outstanding achievements this season," Elliot said. "When it matters the most, Craig and Kenley help their teams prevail. At The Hartford, we share that commitment to deliver during the big moments."
Balloting for the Rivera and Hoffman Awards was conducted among a panel of seven all-time great relievers in order to determine the recipients. Rivera and Hoffman, both of whom spent their entire careers in the same league en route to the top of the all-time saves list, were joined as voters by three Hall of Fame relief pitchers -- Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter -- as well as John Franco and Billy Wagner.
The seven voters ranked the top three AL relief pitchers and the top three NL relief pitchers based solely on regular-season performance, using a 5-3-1 weighted point system.
• Ken Giles of the Astros (63 G, 1-3, 2.30 ERA, 34 saves, 62 2/3 IP, 44 H, 21 BB, 83 SO, 1.03 WHIP)
• Chris Devenski of the Astros (62 G, 8-5, 2.68 ERA, 4 saves, 80 2/3 IP, 50 H, 26 BB, 100 SO, 0.94 WHIP)
• Player Page for David Robertson of the Yankees (61 G, 9-2, 1.84 ERA, 14 saves, 68 1/3 IP, 35 H, 23 BB, 98 SO, 0.85 WHIP)
Devenski and Robertson tied for third place.
• Corey Knebel of the Brewers (76 G, 1-4, 1.78 ERA, 39 saves, 76.0 IP, 48 H, 40 BB, 126 SO, 1.16 WHIP)
• Wade Davis of the Cubs (59 G, 4-2, 2.30 ERA, 32 saves, 58 2/3 IP, 39 H, 28 BB, 79 SO, 1.14 WHIP)
The Rivera and Hoffman Awards replaced MLB's "Delivery Man of the Year Award," which was presented to one winner in all of MLB from 2005-13, and have continued a longstanding baseball tradition of honoring the game's top relief pitchers. The inaugural winners in 2014 were Kimbrel, then of the Braves, in the NL and the Royals' Greg Holland in the AL. The 2015 recipients were the Pirates' Mark Melancon and the Yankees' Andrew Miller, while last year's honorees were Jansen and the Orioles' Zach Britton.