ARLINGTON, Texas — Craig Kimbrel needed only 11 pitches in a perfect ninth to close out Boston's latest victory, and become the quickest pitcher ever to reach 300 career saves.
Kimbrel struck out two for his ninth save in 10 chances this season as the Red Sox won, 6-5, at Texas on Saturday night (Sunday, Manila time). They had scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, after Joe Kelly struck out the only two batters he faced when the Rangers had the bases loaded in the eighth.
"It feels like forever, and also feels like it's flown by," Kimbrel said. "Eight years ago today, I got called up for the first time. It's neat to be able to get my 300th save on the same day. I've been a part of a lot of great teams. There's a lot of save opportunities, a lot of chances. If it wasn't for that, we wouldn't be talking today."
Kimbrel's 300th save overall came in his 494th career appearance and 330th save opportunity, and about three weeks before his 30th birthday. He had 186 saves for Atlanta from 2010-14, and 39 in his only season for San Diego before 75 since joining the Red Sox in 2016.
His 300 saves came quicker than anyone in terms of appearances, save opportunities and age. Mariano Rivera got his 300th save in his 537th game, Joe Nathan in his 335th save opportunity and Francisco Rodriguez at age 31.
"I got an early chance at a young age on some good teams," Kimbrel said. "I've gotten a chance earlier than a lot of guys have."
Kimbrel's grandfather drove down from Kansas to see the game. He also was there for Kimbrel's 200th save, which came during his season with the Padres.
Andrew Benintendi hit a triple off the right-center wall in the ninth against Keone Kela (2-2), missing a home run by only a couple of feet. He came home on a sacrifice fly by Hanley Ramirez, setting the stage for Kimbrel.
"Unreal. He's been good for a long time," manager Alex Cora said of the closer. "For him to do it in that game, it's kind of appropriate. It's one that as a team we grinded it out."
Kelly (1-0) came on with one out in the eighth and fanned Joey Gallo, the slugger who had already hit two impressive home runs, and then got Jurickson Profar on a called third strike to end an 11-pitch at-bat.
"Joe getting out of the eighth inning like that definitely gave us momentum," Kimbrel said.
Boston is 24-9, the best record in the majors, and retained sole possession of the AL East lead a game ahead of the Yankees after New York (23-10) won for the 14th time in 15 games earlier Saturday, 5-2 at home over Cleveland. The Red Sox have been alone atop the division since April 1.
Four Red Sox pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts, matching the most against Texas this season.
Delino DeShields hit a three-run homer in the fifth that put the Rangers up 4-1, when the ball hit on top of the 14-foot wall down the left field line and ricocheted into the seats.
Mitch Moreland hit a two-run homer for the Red Sox in the sixth, and they got even in the seventh when Benintendi, who also had an RBI single in the fifth, blooped a ball down the left field line for what became an RBI double before he scored on a single by J.D. Martinez to make it 5-all.
Shortstop Profar initially slipped while picking up the ball hit by Benintendi and took a few nonchalant steps. When he did, Mookie Betts, who reached on a walk and had slowed at third, took off for home.
"A couple of mistakes that got us," manager Jeff Banister said. "The one ball down the line that Benintendi got a jam shot over the infield, and I think we wound up giving up a run in that situation there, when Profar looked away and the runner was able to run home."
Gallo had homers estimated at 466 and 415 feet. It was the fifth multihomer game in Gallo's career, all at home. He is only the fourth Rangers player with at least 12 homers in the first 30 games of a season, joining Josh Hamilton (2012), Juan Gonzalez (2003) and Ivan Rodriguez (2000) — all past AL MVPs.
Rangers: RHP Tim Lincecum (blister right middle finger) threw a 26-pitch bullpen session Saturday and will join Triple-A Round Rock on Monday for a rehab assignment. He's on the 60-day DL and not eligible for reinstatement until May 28.
Rangers RHP Doug Fister (1-2, 2.88 ERA in five starts for Texas), who made 15 starts for the Red Sox last year after joining the team in late June, goes in the series finale. Boston LHP Chris Sale (2-1, 2.14) has won all three of his previous starts at Texas.