BOSTON (CBS) – Since early July, Koji Uehara had been unhittable. Some even started to question if he was actually a human, or some machine sent from the future whose only goal was to retire the final three (and sometimes four) batters of a baseball game.
A machine programmed simply to throw strikes and give out high fives after a victorious outing, which Uehara has had plenty of over the last two and a half months.
Turns out, the Red Sox reliever is human after all. Though there is still little doubt the man can retire those final batters of a game, his historic run on the mound came to an end on Tuesday night.
With the Red Sox and Orioles tied 2-2 in the top of the 9th, Uehara entered in a non-save situation. He came in not having allowed a hit since August 17. In that span, 37 batters came up to face Uehara, and 37 batters down were sat down by Uehara.
So there was some shock when he allowed a triple to Baltimore’s Danny Valencia to lead off the inning, snapping his club-record streak and the second-longest stretch by a reliever in MLB history. Uehara was just four batters shy of Bobby Jenks’ record 41 in a row set in 2007, and just eight batters shy of the all-time record of 45 set by starter Mark Buehrle in 2009.
Center fielder Shane Victorino gave chase to Valencia’s deep fly ball to center, and probably should have made the catch. It’s hard to knock Victorino, who has been stellar in Fenway’s cavernous center field since taking over for the ailing Jacoby Ellsbury. Just a few innings earlier he tracked down a Nick Markakis offering to make a nice over the shoulder grab, but Victorino admitted after the game he should have had Valencia’s in the ninth.
“Every ball is catchable,” Victorino said. “You know what I mean? That’s how I look at it. It eats at me that I came that close and I didn’t catch it. That makes me more upset. I go that far and I don’t catch it. That’s the part that eats at me. Every ball that’s hit, I look at it as I should catch it.”
That was the only hit the Orioles would manage off of Uehara, but pinch-runner Alexi Casila would score on Matt Wieters’ sac-fly to put Baltimore on top 3-2. That run ended another streak for Uehara, ending his scoreless inning stretch at 30.1 — the longest scoreless streak in baseball this season and second longest in Red Sox history behind Pedro Martinez’s 35-inning stretch in 2002.
Following the loss, Uehara said he wasn’t disappointed the streak came to an end, just that he couldn’t help his team earn a win with a potential playoff berth on the line.
“When I was pitching I didn’t think about the streak at all,” he said through his translator. “All the disappointment is that the team lost.”
It was 27 straight games that Uehara had kept opponents off the board, and he did so in dominating fashion. He needed 20 or more pitches to get the job done just three times, and two of those were for multiple-inning appearances. Six times during the stretch he needed less than 10 pitches to retire the side, throwing strike after strike by whoever stepping into the batter’s box.
Uehara has arguably been Boston’s MVP this season, bringing stability to a closer’s role that was a revolving door earlier in the season. With injuries to both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, and Junichi Tazawa’s inability to lock the role down, Uehara has stepped in and been, well, perfect.
Tuesday night was just a small blip for Uehara. As Boston marches towards their first postseason berth since 2009, there is little doubt he’ll bounce back, and likely begin another streak of dominance.
“To see what he’d done, it was amazing,” Victorino said. “Since he’s taken that role, he’s done a great job. Things like that just don’t happen. It’s impressive.”