Prior to 2013, the Boston Red Sox wanted to make sure to solidify their closer role this past offseason. This was a job to be done by former closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey as the preseason plan B, but season-ending injuries wound up derailing the team’s plans for the ninth inning.
Having experimented with several arms to undesired results and running out of options, the Red Sox turned to veteran Koji Uehara. Uehara, entered the season with 14 career saves in his first four years. He was named the closer on June 26 and from that point on, he was simply the best pitcher in baseball. He pitched in 41 games and gave up only three runs (two of them earned) in 44.1 innings.
He struck out 59 batters, gave up only one home run and blew two out of his 22 save opportunities.
Not only has his season been impressive, his career versus the Tampa Bay Rays may be even better. When the Red Sox and Rays meet in the ALCS, the Rays will be hoping that the ball never gets in the hands of Uehara. The current roster of Rays hitters have gone a combined 8-for-77 with 30 strikeouts against him.
That translates to a .104 batting average, a .138 OBP and a slugging percentage of .195. All-Stars Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist are a combined 4-for-31 with zero home runs and one RBI against Uehara.
With Uehara’s success against the Rays, he essentially makes it an eight-inning game, and will be the ultimate difference-maker in this series.