Red Sox relievers not afraid of Tigers

Red Sox relievers not afraid of Tigers
October 16, 2013, 12:45 am
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DETROIT – It might not be obvious from his demeanor, but Koji Uehara was nervous. Entering Game 3 with a one-run lead, two outs in the eighth, and runners on first and third, he had little margin for error. That he had to face the always dangerous Prince Fielder only added to his nerves.
 
“Of course,” he said. “I almost threw up.”
 
That’s nothing new, he said, he feels like that “every day.”
 
This time, though, it was Fielder who should have been nervous. Fielder struck out on three pitches, ending the inning, and the Tigers’ best chance to erase their deficit, on the way to a 1-0 Red Sox win, and 2-1 series lead.
 
Craig Breslow was the first of the three Red Sox relievers, followed by Junichi Tazawa and Uehara. The trio combined to pitch 2 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up two hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
 
Breslow replaced starter John Lackey – who pitched a gem – entering with two outs and a runner on first. After walking Alex Avila, Breslow got Omar Infante to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
 
In the eighth, Breslow, Tazawa, and Uehara kept the Tigers scoreless, despite having runners at the corners with one out. After striking out pinch-hitter Jose Iglesias, Breslow walked Austin Jackson (just Jackson’s second walk of the postseason with 18 strikeouts), ending Breslow’s outing with Tazawa entering. But Tazawa gave up a single to his first batter, Torii Hunter, to put runners on the corners for the always dangerous Miguel Cabrera.
 
But, Tazawa struck out Cabrera, swinging at three fastballs. Uehara entered for the equally always dangerous Fielder (despite having no RBI in 28 postseason at-bats before this one). Uehara struck out Cabrera on three pitches, ending the inning and the Tigers threat.
 
After a lead-off single by Martinez in the ninth, Uehara got Jhonny Peralta to ground into a double play before striking out Avila to end the game.
 
“We liked the [Tazawa] matchup with power against Cabrera,” manager John Farrell said. “Cabrera has had good success against Koji in the past, hit a couple of balls out of the ballpark against him. And particularly after the base hit the other way by Torii to put them in the first and third situation, we felt power was the best way to go here. Whether he climbed the ladder away from him late or just stayed hard with him, it was a pivotal moment. You're getting the best guy in baseball at the plate, trying to preserve a one‑run lead. And that was a swing moment for sure. And then obviously Koji, what he came in and did, as well.”
 
Striking out Cabrera was the crux of the game.
 
“It’s definitely the biggest out of the game,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “Knowing Cabrera,  knowing that he’s such an RBI machine, that any chance he gets in that situation it seems like he never fails. He’s always going to succeed. And Taz coming in, he was smart, mixed up his slide steps, kind of kept him off balance to where he couldn’t get his timing down, and absolutely made great pitches 95, 96 right there on the corner. Huge, huge out.”
 
Each of the relievers came in with runners on base, a dangerous proposition with such a slim margin.
 
“That’s their job,” Saltalamacchia said. “Obviously, a reliever wants to start the inning without anybody on and come in and start the inning. But that says a lot for what they've done this year and how they’ve prepared themselves and they’ve been and we’re going to keep riding them.”
 
But that is not to say the situations do not affect them.
 
“It was emotional, pretty tough,” Breslow said, of Lackey coming out of the game. “Everybody who has a stake in the game would rather be participating than watching. Huge strike out by Taz, with runner at third base. Now that Taz got the big strikeout, I’m much happier he had the at-bat than me.
 
“We have 25 guys who believe that really good things can happen here. Familiarity is a good thing. Success is often dictated by the routines, and the comfort level we have. There’s a comfort with each other. We know each other’s personalities and nuances, we know what makes each other tick and how to pull for each other.”
 
“I was thinking of the worst-case scenario,” Tazawa said. “[But] walking him, it was not the worst thing to do. So I was using the outside fastballs a lot, and luckily he swung at some balls out of the strike zone.
 
“I think when he swung at the first pitch and missed I felt that he was a little bit late, but was still surprised [Saltalamacchia] asked for consecutive fastballs. “But I think that was a fine play on Salty’s part.”
 
Tazawa knew Uehara would likely come in to face Fielder.
 
“I did feel that there was a possibility that that might happen,” Tazawa said. “But I wish I could be a little bit more dependable so that I could face the hitters. But it’s a team effort so I was glad that Koji was able to get hitters out.”
 
Not dependable?
 
“Well, that’s probably something up to the manager to decide,” Tazawa said. “But I think there’s some work that I have to do.”
 
Was it the most important strikeout of his career.
 
“You could probably say that,” he said. “I want to be able to [help] the team more in that kind of sense.”
 
He did in this game. But, that’s not to say he wasn’t feeling the butterflies.
 
“There was a little bit of jittery feeling out there,” he said. “But I was able to keep my emotions in check
 
“It was more of not wanting to give up the lead that the starting pitcher had held for such a long time. I was glad that I was able to do that.”
 
Making it Koji Time.
 
“Getting a zero [with Fielder up], I knew that if I gave up a hit it was going to score a run, so just putting up a zero was very good,” Uehara said.
 
How does this compare to other high-pressure situations he’s faced this season>
 
“About the same,” he said. “It’s always high pressure.”