After allowing a walk-off home run in a crucial playoff game, one would think a typical closer, especially one who hadn't assumed a full-time closers role until this season, would be rattled. But, staying consistent with the rest of his improbable 2013 story, Koji Uehara wasn't rattled one bit in the days following Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rays.
In fact, Uehara's focus has seemingly never been better since allowing the dramatic homer to Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton. Since the walk-off, Uehara has allowed just four hits and zero runs in 7 1/3 innings. That includes the save he registered in Game 4 of the ALDS the very next night in St. Petersburg.
“He commands so much respect based on the way he goes about his business and the way he prepares everyday,” reliever Craig Breslow said. “He is one of the first guys to get here and he takes care of himself after his outings.”
Since being tabbed closer in late June, the 38-year-old finished with 21 saves (20 after officially being named closer) and was as close to automatic as you can get. After June 26 and with the closer’s title, he allowed just two earned runs the rest of the regular season, including a 30 1/3 scoreless inning streak, as well a club-record 33 consecutive batters retired from late August to Sept. 17.
"They caught lightning in a bottle," said Jim Leyland, who stepped down from his position as Tigers manager Monday. "He's been absolutely terrific, there's no question about that. And obviously his significance right now is probably as important as anybody they've got on their team."
In the postseason, where pressure is at its highest, Uehara has been phenomenal as in nine total innings he’s allowed just one run on five hits while striking out 13 and picking up five saves along the way. He’s also struck out at least one batter in every game except Game 3 against the Rays, despite a fastball that barely reaches 90 MPH.
The 2013 ALCS MVP has also been asked to pitch more than one inning in many outings, which was something he hadn’t done much of prior to this year. Since he was named closer he had seven appearances of more than an inning, but in the postseason three of his eight outings have been more than an inning.
Once a major concern during the season, the Red Sox could not be any more confident than they currently are with their closer. When the game is on the line in the ninth inning, with “Sandstrom” playing over the Fenway PA and their strike-throwing machine enters the game, those games almost always end with high-fives all around.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @Hannable84