Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 171: Red Sox closer Koji Uehara is human...but at least he doesn't suck.

The Red Sox have slogged through closers since Jonathan Papelbon left the team after the 2011 season. Over his seven years with the Sox, Papelbon was pretty awesome with 219 saves and a 2.33 ERA. The 219 saves makes him the Red Sox career saves leader. And in August of 2007, he recorded his 30th save and became the first Boston pitcher to ever have two 30-save seasons—he ended up with six straight 30+ save seasons.

There was not much that got the stands at Fenway rocking like the gravelly opening notes of Dropkick Murphy's "Shipping Up to Boston" as he trotted in from the bullpen. I miss those days. Things have been... shall we say... somewhat painful since Paps departure.

In the two seasons since, the Sox have seen numerous bodies toe the rubber with the game on the line in crucial late inning situations. Up until now, none of them has done anything earth shattering. For a fleeting moment, Daniel Bard seemed to be the obvious choice as Papelbon's successor. And then Bobby Valentine broke him—tried to make him a starter and completely ruined a young pitcher's career. Bard never recovered and is no longer with the team.

Andrew Bailey was acquired before the 2012 season to fill the roll, but suffered a thumb injury in spring training and basically did diddly-squat the entire season. Enter Mark Melancon who ended up getting shelled in April, was shipped off to Triple-A Pawtucket and never saw action in Boston again. And then there was Alfredo Aceves... he butted heads often with the manager and felt he deserved more credit than his stats (5.36 ERA and 25 saves in 69 relief appearances) warranted.

The 2013 season started with a presumably healthy Bailey and newly signed Joel Hanrahan. All set, right? Nope. Hanrahan injured his elbow early in the season and Bailey just plain sucked. So now what?

John Farrell was forced to look deep into his bullpen for a reliever sturdy enough to last and poised enough to stay focused with the game on the line. Enter veteran right-hander Koji Uehara. The 38-year-old, in his first year with the Sox, had just 14 total saves in his previous four seasons split between Baltimore and Texas. And you want to do what, Mr. Farrell?

But Farrell must have seen something special in Koji. Since being handed the closer role in late June, he has 19 saves. But even more impressive is the 37 straight batters he has retired since July 9th. That streak ended on Tuesday night against the Orioles but Koji didn't let it distract him. He came back and got the next three batters but allowed a sac fly to drive in the go ahead run and give him his first loss of the season. Still...color me impressed.

So we find out that Uehara is not Superman, but he's still a super closer. I love his energy, his fire, his intensity, his high-fives and his fierce fist-pumping. Just one more guy picking up the slack, like so many players have done during this amazing season!

No comments:

Post a Comment