ANAHEIM, Calif. — There is no such thing as an easy save, and boy, Craig Kimbrel knows it.

He’s been through this. With Monday night’s tightrope effort to strand the bases loaded and secure the Orioles’ 4-2 victory against the Los Angeles Angels, Kimbrel recorded his 423rd career save. Those three outs — the three outs that can haunt so many relievers who enter in the ninth inning of a close game — are arduous. They’re elusive.

But Kimbrel has made a career of securing those outs, and now he stands alone with the seventh–most saves of any Major League Baseball pitcher.

“It’s still kind of hard to wrap my head around,” Kimbrel said.

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What makes it crazier to the 35-year-old is that he passed Billy Wagner to take sole control of seventh on the all-time list. When Kimbrel was a rookie with Atlanta in 2010, Wagner was the grizzled veteran saving games. It was the last season of Wagner’s 16-year career.

Now Kimbrel, in his 15th season, is the one with a touch of grey in his beard, and the heartbeat that hardly races when he’s in trouble.

“It’s crazy how time flies by,” Kimbrel said. “Especially in this game, so focused on the job at hand and just continuing through the same process. There are aspects that feel like it’s been a while. It’s crazy how fast it goes by. And still to be able to do it at this age, and have guys remind me they’ve been watching since they were in elementary school — I mean, we laugh at it, but that’s a good feeling to be able to do it for this long.”

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He needed every bit of his experience Monday to pass Wagner and secure Baltimore’s series-opening win. With an 0-2 count against his first hitter, Kimbrel plunked Jo Adell on the hand. Then he allowed a single and a walk with a strikeout in between.

With the bases loaded, Kimbrel said there is almost less to think about. The runners aren’t stealing. He can only focus on his next pitch.

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That mentality has served him throughout his career, and it helped him induce a pop-up for the second out. And then Mike Trout came to the plate.

“I’m sitting there in the dugout with [Ryan] O’Hearn,” said Adley Rutschman, “and we’re like, ‘Well, I guess this is what the people came for right here.’ ”

Kimbrel pumped four straight four-seam fastballs to Trout, staying at the top of the zone, and he recorded a strikeout looking at the last 94.5 mph offering.

“That’s definitely the heartbeat you want on the mound,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I mean, he’s just so in control. Obviously, been there a lot of times. That situation there could get away from a lot of guys, but he was totally in command and under control and made huge pitches when he needed to.”

As a rookie, Kimbrel was up and down between the majors and the minors throughout the season. Still, he got to see Wagner work, and he occasionally picked the then-38-year-old’s mind.

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Kimbrel soaked in how Wagner prepared the same way each day, following a routine so he’d be ready to pitch if called upon. He noticed how Wagner trusted his pitches completely. If the hitter was going to get the better of him, it would be against Wagner’s best stuff.

“All the simple things you need to play this game for a long time, I still remind myself of those things every day,” Kimbrel said. “You can’t have a great season in one day, but you can sure ruin one in one day, right? So, just focusing on one day at a time.”

Kimbrel is still in position to climb further up the all-time save list. He’s only one away from tying John Franco’s 424, and Boston Red Sox reliever Kenley Jansen (the only other active player above Kimbrel on the list) is in fifth with 425 saves.

Francisco Rodríguez, the six-time All-Star, is also within reach at No. 4 with 437 saves.

“Still playing this game, still going to have opportunities, and hopefully lots of opportunities to add to that number. It is nice to be able to sit here and talk about this each and every time, ‘cause it is very important, and they are very important milestones,” Kimbrel said.

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But then he quickly pointed out the purpose of all these saves.

“At the same time, it’s not about the next save to go up the milestones, it’s about the next save I can get to help this team win a game,” Kimbrel continued. “And I’m doing my best to just stay there. Because it is — it’s really cool to think about my name with all these historical guys who played the game for a long time. It is. It’s neat to think about. But I have to focus on my job each and every night.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Danielle Allentuck contributed to this report.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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