Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel closes out the Braves' 4-1 win over the Colorado Rockies of a baseball game in Atlanta Monday, July 4, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A disappointing end to the 2011 season for the Atlanta Braves couldn't diminish what was an amazing first full season for closer Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel was honored Monday as the National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year in a vote by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The 23-year-old right-hander received all 32 first-place votes for the award, making him the first unanimous selection for the NL honor since St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols in 2001.
He is the first Braves player to be named Rookie of the Year since Rafael Furcal in 2000, and teammate Freddie Freeman was second in the balloting. They were the first teammates to finish one-two since 1989.
"It's definitely an honor," said Kimbrel, who is in Hawaii for teammate Peter Moylan's wedding this week. "It's an award you only get one chance to win, and I definitely feel it's an honor to have this privilege.
"Waking up this morning I was thinking about what I'm going to see when I go snorkeling this morning. So when I got the call it was definitely a surprise, and to be unanimous ... makes it that much more special."
In 2011, Kimbrel recorded 46 saves to tie for the NL lead with Milwaukee's John Axford and set a major league record for saves by a rookie.
He recorded 127 strikeouts in 79 appearances and got to 100 career strikeouts faster than any pitcher in franchise history, achieving that milestone in 59 1/3 innings. He also was selected to the NL All-Star team and had a streak of 38 innings without allowing a run.
"I didn't go into the season saying I wanted to win Rookie of the Year," Kimbrel said. "My expectations for this year were to do whatever I could to help this team win and get to the playoffs."
The season had a tough ending for him and the Braves, who squandered an 8 1/2-game lead in the NL wild-card race in the final month of the season.
Kimbrel's blown save against the Philadelphia Phillies in the final game of the season helped allow the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals to make the playoffs.
"It's really nice to have this honor, but it's not going to take away from what happened at the end of this year," he said. "If anything, it will help me strive to become better and be a better pitcher.
"I don't think I'm going to use this award to build on or push myself. I push myself by the things I don't do right or the things I could have done and can do to become better."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478.
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...