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BOSTON (CBS) — Koji Uehara’s performance in 2013 has been outrageous, ridiculous and dominant, and now he’s got his own page in the Red Sox’ history book to prove it.
Uehara entered Wednesday night’s game in Tampa Bay for his second appearance in as many days, and he got the same results he’s gotten since the middle of August: strikeout, strikeout, ground out.
The 1-2-3 inning was Uehara’s 11th consecutive perfect inning since Aug. 21. Going back to his previous appearance on Aug. 17, he’s retired 34 straight batters setting a new Red Sox record. Previously, Ellis Kinder held the record of 32 straight batters retired, a mark that was best in franchise history and held up for 61 years.
“This stretch that he’s on right now, it’s pretty unbelievable,” Jonny Gomes said this week. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Uehara wasn’t the only star on Wednesday night — Mike Carp’s 10th-inning, pinch-hit grand slam provided the winning runs with some oomph — but the closer’s continued dominance once again was at the forefront of another Red Sox victory.
Manager John Farrell elected to use Uehara on Wednesday in the ninth inning, despite the fact that the game was tied, because he felt confident that the Red Sox could scrape a run across in the 10th. They just had to get to the 10th, and Uehara was the man to get them there.
He struck out Kelly Johnson on four pitches, struck out Wil Myers on seven, and induced a ground ball to second base from Ben Zobrist. It took just 17 pitches — somewhat high by Uehara’s standards — to get to the 10th, where the Red Sox earned their 22nd last at-bat victory of the season.
In all, Uehara’s now pitched 26 straight times without allowing a run, a 29.1-inning stretch in which batters have hit just .065 against him. He’s struck out 40 and walked just one in that same stretch, which dates back to July 9.
On the season, Uehara is now 4-0 with 19 saves, a 1.08 ERA, 93 strikeouts, nine walks and a 0.570 WHIP. He’s matched a career-high of 66.2 innings pitched, but even at 38 years old, he’s shown zero signs of slowing down. If anything, he’s only getting better as the year goes on.
It’s been hard to explain how Uehara has been so dominant, but it always comes back to one simple thing: throwing strikes. Of his 953 pitches this season, 73.7 percent have been strikes. His splitter has unpredictable movement, and he’s used it to make hitters look bad all year long.
In a season when nobody predicted the Red Sox would be this good, Uehara stands out as the unlikeliest of stars. The Red Sox are going to stroll this September to an AL East title, and Uehara’s otherworldly performance is among the biggest reasons how they got here. It’s unknown how long the streaks will continue for Uehara, but there’s no doubt how much confidence he gives his team, and as was on display Wednesday night in Tampa, confidence is a very dangerous thing.