Kimbrel not in action as Braves stick to plan in eighth
Working closer for more than four outs wasn't in scheme for manager Gonzalez
LOS ANGELES -- Juan Uribe's towering home run into the Dodgers bullpen will forever define the end of the Braves' 2013 season, and all Craig Kimbrel could do -- after another historic year as the club's closer -- was watch.
Instead of trying to fashion six outs from Kimbrel, who led the National League in saves and posted a 1.21 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP during the regular season, manager Fredi Gonzalez stuck with what had gotten him there.
It was 28-year-old set-up man David Carpenter, the bullpen's link to Kimbrel for much of the past two months, who served up the hanging slider that ultimately decided Los Angeles' 4-3 series-clinching victory in Game 4 Monday night.
"We had the right guy out there," Gonzalez said afterward. "Carp has been good for us. You know, there is nothing to be ashamed of."
"Good" might be an understatement. Among pitchers who threw at least 60 innings during the regular season, Carpenter's 1.78 ERA ranked fifth and his 0.99 WHIP was good enough for 10th. But -- fair or not -- Carpenter's campaign will likely be defined by the 2-2 pitch he left up in the zone to Uribe.
Kimbrel, who declined to speak with reporters after the game, may have ranked ahead of Carpenter in almost every major category, but he had only pitched more than one inning twice all season -- including during Atlanta's Game 2 victory. He tossed 1 1/3 scoreless frames to pick up the save in that contest, and that's all Gonzalez was hoping for on Monday.
"We had it set up to bring him to four outs," Gonzalez said. "I think six outs was something that we weren't even talking about in the dugout. But I think with two outs we were planning to do that. We set up the 8th inning to be able to do that."
When asked after Sunday night's Game 3 loss if he would have been willing to pitch two innings in Game 4, Kimbrel responded by saying, "I hope I get that opportunity because it probably means we're tied or ahead. If that opportunity presents itself, I'll be more than willing to go out there and do it."
But two inning saves are obviously no guarantee, even for the most established of closers.
"I wanted the ball," Carpenter said. "I wanted to be there in the eighth inning, and I just didn't get the job done."
After the game, a handful of Braves players offered a dazed Carpenter hugs and words of support in the visiting dugout. In the clubhouse, they backed him fully, as well.
"We've got all the confidence in the world in Carp," catcher Brian McCann said. "He's had an unbelievable season. He's been a big powerhouse for us, and it's the right play."
It may have been the right play, but when a bullpen gives away a lead in a pivotal October contest, there will always be questions as to whether the correct arm was on the mound.
Carpenter doesn't think there should be any doubts, but he knows they'll linger. Instead, he simply believes he was the right man for the job -- a job he had done all year, but a job he couldn't finish on the season's biggest stage.
"It was my fault," Carpenter said. "I'm the reason we're not going back to Atlanta tied 2-2. I'll take the responsibility for it."