Craig Kimbrel first in history to fan half his batters faced

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Braves closer Craig Kimbrel struck out three out of the four Pirates he faced Wednesday to become the first pitcher in major league history to fan at least half of the batters he faced.

Kimbrel racked up 116 strikeouts while facing 231 batters. That’s more than four strikeouts for each of the 27 hits he allowed. He struck out more than eight times as many batters as he walked (14), which is perhaps the most stunning stat of all for those of us who saw him as a prospect a few years back. He walked fewer batters in 62 2/3 innings this year than he did in 20 2/3 innings (16) following his arrival to the majors in 2010.

The record Kimbrel set today barely even requires a minimum-inning requirement. Not only is Kimbrel the first to do it in minimum 50 or 60 innings, but he’d be the first to do it with a minimum of six innings. Francisco Rodriguez struck out 13 of the 21 batters he faced after joining the Angels in Sept. 2002. He pitched 5 2/3 innings that month before becoming a postseason hero. No one else has done it over as few as three innings.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.