8/20/2013 6:05 P.M. ET
Kimbrel saves his best work for Fan Cave
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Craig Kimbrel is one save away from joining John Smoltz as the only Braves closers to record 40 or more saves in three consecutive seasons, having already passed the legend's record for consecutive conversions. The latest milestone could happen in the two-game series against the Mets or in the four big games that close Atlanta's road trip in St. Louis.
Wherever it happens, Kimbrel will put on his Mr. Hyde mask and see his "business time" through to the end, then promptly revert to the same happy-go-lucky character who lives largely at ease around Major League Baseball circles. That demeanor was on display Tuesday at the MLB Fan Cave, where he filmed an upcoming staredown-contest video with fans, played pingpong, hung out and talked about a variety of topics, including his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide's upcoming opener, the Braves' focus with a big lead and how he uses MLB.TV Premium as a secret weapon for preparation.
"It definitely is a great personal accomplishment, but it also says I've been part of a team that has been winning a lot of games that last three years," said Kimbrel, who entered Tuesday night's series opener at Citi Field tied with Baltimore's Jim Johnson for the Major League lead with 39 saves, following 46 in 2011 and 42 in '12.
"I've been fortunate to be part of a winning team and to have those opportunities. If we didn't win, I wouldn't have those opportunities, and I wouldn't be sitting here talking about three straight years of 40 saves. So I feel honored, but lucky at the same time."
Kimbrel, already the only Braves closer other than Smoltz in the 30-30-30 saves club, has seen his name used alongside Smoltz often lately. The former broke the latter's club record with his 28th consecutive save conversion last Wednesday against Philadelphia, and then Kimbrel upped that to 29 straight in Sunday's finale against the Nationals. His last blown save was on May 7 in Cincinnati, and since then, he has allowed only one run and 19 hits in 37 appearances (37 innings) with 56 strikeouts. Three of those K's came in his last outing, ending it with a Bryce Harper unsuccessful checked swing.
If you are among the millions of MLB.TV subscribers, then you have something in common with the three-time All-Star. Kimbrel said it is part of his arsenal in the pursuit of perfection.
"I think it's awesome," he said. "I actually use MLB.TV to go back and watch the game and watch mechanics and to watch other games. If I want to go back and see how somebody did, you can pull it up and watch the entire game after it's already done, just on your phone. So I think it's really awesome.
"Tendencies, things like that. We have all that at the field, but if you're not at the field, you don't have it. So it's great to pull it up or watch another game. I have friends who are on the West Coast. So if their games are not on TV, I can just pull it up and watch it on my phone, and it's just right there."
For those watching Kimbrel stare down hitters, you may be wondering: What goes through his mind as "Welcome to the Jungle" is played when he enters a game? What is behind that steely-eyed stare? As he puts it, Dr. Jekyll transforms ever so briefly into Mr. Hyde.
"I'm completely different," Kimbrel said. "I'm a very funny guy, I like to joke around, never really take anything too serious until five or 10 minutes out of the day. Then when I go on the field to pitch, to close the game out, that's my time to be serious. That's my business time. I'm out there mad, not mad at anybody, but out there determined to get the job done. ... As soon as that last out is over, I'm just back to being normal me."
The "normal" Kimbrel often can be overheard talking Bama football, having come from Huntsville, Ala. He circled Aug. 31 on his calendar a long time ago, knowing that is when the two-time defending champion Tide opens its season in Atlanta against Virginia Tech. The Braves are home that Saturday night against Miami, a 7:10 ET start. Bama's start time is 5:30 ET. He joked to Braves general manager Frank Wren in the dugout recently that Atlanta's game should be changed to earlier in the day to accommodate "traffic."
"I'll definitely be watching the first half on the TV rooting my guys on," Kimbrel said. "Nick Saban puts together a great ballclub. He brings in great talent and teaches those guys to play great football. I think that's why he's such a good coach. There definitely is more attention on the team now than there was in the past -- back-to-back national championships, preseason No. 1 -- all that kind of stuff. For a college kid, it probably can weigh on a kid. But [Saban] is not going to let them think they're No. 1; he's going to make them go out there and prove it."
Actually, it will be busy enough for Kimbrel without the football-baseball sequence on Aug. 31. He is going to meet with about 190 kids in a pregame party that night to help Curing Kids Cancer.
"We'll give them a hat and a glove, and hopefully, they'll catch a foul ball," Kimbrel said. "Try and get away from going to the hospital every day and going in for treatment."
That's Kimbrel off the field, charitable and goofing around. He said ending this Braves season strong is serious business, especially after the last two abrupt endings. There is a long line of clubs that dominated their divisions only to exit the postseason early in soporific style. He sees this runaway National League East leader as driven to withstand.
"We don't have that stressed feel. We haven't been stressed all year long," Kimbrel said. "We've just been going out there having a good time. Yeah, we have a big lead, but we haven't won the division yet. ... We still have a month and a half of baseball left to play in the regular season, and we've just got to go out there and take one game at a time.
"I don't think this team will let a big lead get us comfortable, because we've been through that. We've been there, and we've thrown it away. This team is not going to get too comfortable. We still have that edge and go out there and try to win every night."