There have been a lot of pleasant surprises on the 2013 Red Sox team, but certainly Koji Uehara is one that stands out from the rest. The Red Sox came into this season with Joel Hanrahan as their closer. He was a complete bust and is out for the season with an injury. Andrew Bailey pitched well in his absence before he too started getting pounded and eventually succumbed to a season-ending injury.
In stepped Uehara. There were several reasons to doubt whether or not Uehara could handle the closer’s role. He doesn’t have prototypical closer’s stuff. He doesn’t throw in the high-90’s. He has very little closing experience in his short MLB career. He’s also quickly approaching his career-high in innings pitched.
What he lacks in velocity and experience, though, he makes up for with alarming precision. The results speak for themselves. Since becoming the team’s closer in late June, Uehara has been flat-out the best finisher in baseball. He’s pitched 19 innings as a closer, and has allowed just one earned run on seven hits, while striking out 28. Most impressively he has walked just one batter as a closer. In the month of July, he led all MLB closers in WHIP, ERA and strikeouts.
Most importantly, Uehara has helped Boston fans avoid several heart attacks. This town has seen enough closers come into games and make them way too interesting by letting runners on base before closing out the game. Uehara doesn’t do that. He comes in, works fast, throws strikes, ends the game and high fives everyone enthusiastically. If he’s not in a Boston uniform in 2014, Boston fans can fondly look back at his 2013 season and have nothing but good memories.