Uehara deserves this season's 10th player award

Uehara deserves this season's 10th player award
August 29, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Well, the Sox did it again. Another crazy comeback. And honestly, at this point, that’s just what we’ve come to expect. Admit it. As the game moved into the later innings last night, even with the Sox down two runs, you felt that energy in the park and that inkling deep in your subconscious that left you confident that they’d somehow pull it out. I did. This team has earned that. After five months of going above and beyond expectations, above and beyond is the new expectation.

Speaking of above and beyond — segue! — during last night’s broadcast, Don Orsillo and Dennis Eckersley had a brief discussion about this year’s Red Sox 10th Player Award, and inspired this:

As you’re aware, the 10th Player Award is handed out every year to the Sox player who has “most exceeded his expectations” for that season. For instance, over the past decade, the prototypical 10th Player was Bill Mueller in 2003. When he arrived in Boston, most Sox fans had never heard of Mueller, and the ones who had didn’t know how to pronounce his name. One hundred sixty-two games later? He won the AL batting title.

The 10th Player Award is voted on by the fans, which, if you scan through the starting lineups of any All-Star game over the last 20 years, can sometimes lead to disaster. But Red Sox Nation has been pretty good about getting it right. Even though there’s a certain air of cheesiness that lingers over an award like the 10th Player, it’s something that everyone around here takes relatively seriously. The 10th Player is everything we love about sports. Surprise. Inspiration. Reaching heights that no one thought you could. And after a season like this one, it might be nice to give the award the entire team. But there can only be one winner. So, let’s discuss.

First of all, a quick shout out to Jose Iglesias, who was the ultimate 10th Player during his half season with the Sox. So much so that the team was able to turn the light-hitting infielder whom was no longer in their future plans into a bona fide starting arm.

John Lackey deserves a little love, too. He deserves something. At least a little bit of run support? Come on, guys. But if we’re being honest, the expectations that Lackey has exceeded this year were a product of his miserable first three seasons in Boston. Not that anyone is complaining that he finally turned it around, but the digits on his annual paycheck suggest that this is what we should have seen all along.

Give Felix Doubront some credit, as well. Back in May, he found himself relegated to the bullpen, but since then his maturity and performance have exploded, and, along with Lackey, he has brought a sense of stability to a starting rotation that may have otherwise imploded.

Of course, Daniel Nava needs to be mentioned. He’s fallen off a little as of late, but he almost made the All-Star team and was an integral part of the early-season success. He also gets a boost when you remember that the Sox initially signed him for ONE DOLLAR.

And now, before we get to the three finalists, a nod to the last-place finisher in this year 10th Player Award balloting. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Joel Hanrahan!

Now to the Top 3:

3. Mike Carp
Baseball is a game rooted in routine. For so many guys, everything (their reps, their spot in the batting order, every single aspect of their pre-game schedule) has to be perfect in order to perform to their highest capability. But routine doesn’t exist for a player like Carp, who never knows when or if he’ll see the field, and that, at the end of the day, no matter what he does or how well he performs, his role on this team is in permanent limbo. Before last night, Carp had made only five plate appearance in the previous 11 days. He’s played only one full nine-inning game since August 7. Still, when Farrell turned to Carp in the eighth inning last night, with a man on second and the score tied, there was a belief inside the Sox dugout, and really, in the entire stadium, that Carp would find a way to get it done. And he did. Even if it wasn’t in the most authoritative fashion.

He has only 168 at-bats on the season but has made the most of them with eight home runs (as many as Dustin Pedrioa), 31 RBI and a .307 average. But more, he’s done it without being a pain in the ass. Without bitching. Without ego. You need guys like Mike Carp to survive and succeed over the long 162-game schedule (and hopefully beyond).

Not bad for a guy that Sox picked up in Spring Training in exchange for “player to be named or cash.”

2. Johnny Gomes
The basic numbers aren’t all that impressive. Gomes is hitting .232, with 11 homers and 42 RBI. On top of that, his defense is average at best, and he’s struck out more times in 250 at-bats than David Ortiz has in 416. Still, he’s hitting .362 with runners in scoring position. He’s hitting .400 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Break down Gomes’ batting average by inning, and the ninth, where he’s hitting at a .367 clip, is by far his best. He’s hit four home runs as a pinch hitter. He’s hit two walk-off home runs. Whenever the Sox find themselves in a close game — and that happens a lot — Gomes always seems to find himself in the middle of the action. And his track record is pretty damn good.

And that’s just on the field. Off the field, Gomes has been perhaps the most inspiring character on team that’s defined by inspiring character.

These Sox wouldn’t be these Sox without Johnny Gomes. His presence alone is worth the 2-year/$10 million price tag.

But while Gomes and Carp and others are all deserving of this year’s 10th Player Award, no one on the 2013 Sox is more deserving than . . . .

1. Koji Uehara
The Sox signed the 38-year-old Japanese reliever with the hope that he’d provide a little middle relief. At the time, the move was barely a blip on the radar. But when the season started, and the back of the bullpen fell apart, all Koji did was step up and deliver one of the most dominant seasons of any closer in team history. Sure, he only has 14 saves. But that’s most due to the fact that he didn’t become the full-time closer until June 26. But on the season, he’s sporting a 1.22 ERA. He’s struck out 80 batters in 59 innings, while walking only eight. His WHIP is .644 (meanwhile, there’s not another pitcher on the staff with a WHIP under 1.00).

From the start, he brought an edge, highlighted by his intense flurry of high-fives every time he left the field, that has become contagious. He’s one of the many important characters that has made this team what it is. And the fact that he’s so seamlessly and dominantly transitioned into a role that could have very well become this team’s Achilles heel . . . it all adds up to 10th Player Award glory!

At least it should.

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