McAdam: Uehara dazzles once again in latest save

McAdam: Uehara dazzles once again in latest save
August 29, 2013, 11:00 am
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On the outside, Koji Uehara is the picture of calm on the mound.
But Wednesday night, that was just a facade.
Uehara made quick work of the Baltimore Orioles in the ninth inning of the Red Sox' 4-3 comeback victory, needing just nine pitches to retire three hitters in succession and notched his 14th save.
Afterward, however, Uehara confessed to having mixed emotions.
"It is a little bit difficult to pitch against them," acknowledged Uehara with the help of an interpreter,  "because they know about me and I know about them. So that's a little more difficult than usual. I try to get to get rid of my personal feelings toward the players I played with and am good friends with."
Uehara's ties to Baltimore are strong. He pitched for the Orioles when he first came to the big leagues in 2009 and remained with them into the 2011 season. He owns a house there and his family continues to live there, even as the reliever finishes his first season in Boston.
Given the familiarity between the two sides, he was asked: who owns the competitive advantage?
"I don't think that way," insisted Uehara. "Every year, I evolve and they evolve."
Indeed, Uehara has, this season, evolved into one of the American League's most dominant closers.
Since being given the role in late June, Uehara's numbers border on the otherworldly.
In his last 27 games, Uehara, is 13-for-15 in save opportunities. In 27 games, covering 29 innings, he's struck out 38 hitters while walking only two. He's allowed 10 hits to the 98 batters he's faced and his ERA is a microscopic 0.31.
For the season, his ERA is 1.22 and his WHIP is .644, numbers that invite comparisons to Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley's run as closer for the Oakland A's in the last 1980 and early 1990s.
It's more than the Red Sox could have dreamed for when they turned to Uehara as their choice as fourth closer this season.
Reflecting on his growth since leaving Baltimore two seasons ago, Uehara is somewhat enigmatic.
"I have a bigger role with this team as a closer," he said, "so I think the responsibility has changed a lot."
One thing that cannot be argued is Uehara's dominance, which seems to intensify even as the season progresses.
This month, for instance, Uehara has had five save opportunities -- a modest amount, given that the Sox haven't played a lot of close games -- and has faced 17 hitters in that span. Of those 17, just two have reached: one by walk, another by a base hit.
Over his last nine save opportunities, in fact, Uehara has been the very model of efficiency. In that span, only two baserunners have reached; in the other seven save chances, Uehara has retired the side in order, as he did again Wednesday.
In four of those saves, Uehara has needed nine or fewer pitches to get the game's final outs.
"It's just something that happens," shrugged Uehara. "It's not that I'm trying to pitch that way; it just happens that way."
It's more than an accident, of course. Uehara is aggressive within the strike zone and his command -- the ability to control the ball within the strike zone -- is pinpoint.
As the season hurtles toward the final four weeks, Uehara, 38, is in uncharted territory. He's six games away from tying his major league career high in appearances and six innings away from matching his major league career high in innings pitched out of the bullpen.
Beyond the 28 regular season games remaining, there is, the Sox and Uehara hope, October.
Uehara is ready.
"I feel great," assured Uehara. "But I've got to re-set and get ready for the last month."