NEW YORK — Craig Kimbrel overpowered hitters with his rocket right arm, then overwhelmed rivals in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
If only, the Atlanta Braves’ closer figured, his final outing could’ve gone better.
Kimbrel unanimously won the NL honor Monday, with Tampa Bay pitcher Jeremy Hellickson a clear choice as the top rookie in the AL.
Kimbrel set a major-league record for saves by a rookie with 46. He earned all 32 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and outpointed Braves teammate Freddie Freeman.
“It definitely did surprise me,” Kimbrel said. “I expected it to be close.”
Kimbrel was dominant for much of the year, chosen as an NL All-Star during his streak of 38 consecutive appearances without allowing a run. But that streak ended in mid-September, and the 23-year-old Kimbrel struggled as the Braves frittered away a 101/2-game lead in the NL wild-card race.
Kimbrel’s eighth blown save of the year came in the final game of the season, when he walked three, gave up a hit and allowed the tying run in the ninth inning against Philadelphia. The Phillies went on to win in the 13th, costing the Braves a spot in a one-game playoff against St. Louis for the wild-card slot.
“I blew many saves throughout the year. It just so happened that one came in the last game of the year with everything on the line,” he said. “My control was not there, I was all over the place.”
“I’m going to get over it, but I’m not going to forget it,” he said. “I need to fix it.”
Kimbrel struck out 127 in only 77 innings and anchored Atlanta’s outstanding bullpen, pitching 79 games. He was 4-3 with a 2.10 ERA, and his long scoreless span covered 37⅔ innings.
Kimbrel wound up tied for Milwaukee’s John Axford for the NL lead in saves. He became the 10th unanimous NL rookie winner and the first since Albert Pujols in 2001. Kimbrel was the seventh Braves player to win the award that began in 1947, and the first since Rafael Furcal in 2000.
Hellickson went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA in helping the Rays take the AL wild-card spot. He drew 17 of 28 first-place votes and finished well ahead of Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo.