Top 50 Sox Seasons #21: Ellis Kinder, 1953

10-6, 1.85/1.140/.218, 107 IP, 69 G, 51 GF, 27 SV, 39K, 38 BB, 227 ERA+, MVP – 11

The 38-year-old Kinder had one last salvo in his gun. The former 23-game winner had always split time between starting and winning, but by 1951 was relieving almost exclusively. In 1953, Kinder did not start a game for the first time in his late-blooming, war-shortened career (he started with the Browns at age 31 in 1946). Perhaps that’s because he made himself indispensable as the first true closer in Red Sox history.

Kinder is an unrecognized trailblazer. Although other pitchers had been used as relief aces throughout the Sox’ history (Carl Mays stands out), they were generally starters called upon to rescue games or pitch extra innings. But Kinder from 1951-55 worked as a full-time closer a full 10 years before Dick Radatz, and in 1953, he posted one of the best years ever by a Red Sox reliever.

Kinder’s 1.85 ERA remains the fourth-lowest season by a Boston reliever (minimum 50 innings), topped first by Calvin Schiraldi in 1986, then by Jonathan Papelbon in 2006 and 2007. It was no product of his era either, as his ERA+ trails those same seasons and none others in Red Sox history. Of those four seasons, however, Kinder’s was the only to top 70 innings, and he threw a workmanlike 107. When he retired after the 1957 season, Kinder was just the second pitcher ever to win 100 and save 100 games in his career. He’s still part of a select group of 15, and ranks fourth in ERA+ among them, behind Hoyt Wilhelm, John Smoltz and Rich Gossage.

Key game: May 15. With the Red Sox leading, 3-2, against the Browns, starter Sid Hudson runs into trouble in the seventh, loading the bases with one out. Kinder comes in – the second straight day in which he’s asked to extract the Red Sox from a bases-loaded jam – and quickly dispatches the next five batters for the save, preserving the win and a double-header sweep.

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