- Associated Press - Monday, November 14, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Craig Kimbrel overpowered hitters with his rocket right arm, then overwhelmed rivals in the NL 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 on 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 on a conference call from his vacation in Hawaii. “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 straight 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 10 1/2-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 37 2-3 innings.

“I did learn that the season is long,” he said.

Kimbrel wound up tied for Milwaukee’s John Axford for the NL lead in saves. He became the 10th unanimous NL rookie winner, and first since Albert Pujols in 2001. Kimbrel was the seventh Braves player to win the award that began in 1947, and first since Rafael Furcal in 2000.

Kimbrel, who pitched 21 games in 2010 but still retained his rookie eligibility, earned 160 points in the BBWAA balloting. Freeman, who hit .282 with 21 home runs and 76 RBIs, was second with 21 second-place votes and 70 points. Kimbrel and Freeman became the first pair of teammates to finish 1-2 in the NL rookie voting since Cubs outfielders Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith in 1989.

Philadelphia pitcher Vance Worley was third and Washington catcher Wilson Ramos was fourth. Ramos was kidnapped in Venezuela last week and freed Saturday when commandos raided the mountain hideout where he was being held.

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.

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