Birthday boy: Koji gift-wraps series win
Bogaerts turns in first three-hit game; bullpen solid after Doubront exits
BALTIMORE -- Koji Uehara celebrated his 39th birthday Thursday as perhaps only he can -- with what seemed like a 39-second save.
The Red Sox's closer is not only dominant, but he is strikingly efficient. And if you think there's going to be a significant dropoff from his career season of a year ago, the righty is already offering evidence to the contrary.
In helping the Red Sox put the finishing touches on a 4-3 victory over the Orioles in the rubber game of a three-game series at Camden Yards, Uehara got the save in just seven pitches.
Of those seven pitches, six were for strikes, and none of them were hit even remotely hard.
After a strikeout and two infield popups, Uehara once again found himself in a victory line following his first save of 2014.
How old does Uehara feel?
"Today, 29," the righty said through his interpreter.
Before the game, as Uehara was going through his preparations, some of his fellow pitchers made it clear they knew what day it was.
"They sang happy birthday while I was stretching," said Uehara. "Now I just have to wait for the presents to come."
Manager John Farrell gave him the one he needed before the game.
"I told him he was pitching the ninth," Farrell said.
These days, there might not be anybody who does that job better.
"They have grasped how to use him, No. 1," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "A lot of guys, you've heard about hitters who are ambush hitters. He's an ambush pitcher. One of the few I've seen. He spins the ball real well with his fastball. That's why velocity doesn't matter. I think they said he has more rotation on his fastball than anybody else.
"He slows them down with a get-me-over slider, and a split for the left-handers. He's got a lot of weapons. And that's a sharp knife. If you can ever get him in that 15-pitch margin, you've got a chance. He doesn't really give you time to make the adjustments with the late life on the fastball, so you get ambushed by him early."
While Boston's oldest player got the save, the youngest guy on the team also played a pivotal role.
Looking primed to live up to the big expectations that surround him, rookie Xander Bogaerts continued his hot start by belting three hits, scoring twice and making a clutch play in the hole to start a force in the bottom of the eighth.
It was the first three-hit game in the career of Bogaerts, and there are likely to be many more to come for the 21-year-old. Through the first three games, Bogaerts is hitting .556.
"Yeah, he's played the game comfortably, to say the least," said Farrell. "He's on base multiple times each game. He's played very good defensively. He goes to the backhand on the force play late in the game. He's doing an outstanding job for us."
Bogaerts also helped Boston quite a bit down the stretch last season after he was called up from the Minors. But now he's the starting shortstop, and he looks ready for all the responsibility that entails.
"I mean, towards the end of Spring Training, I was swinging the bat really well," said Bogaerts. "I'm really happy the way things have gone so far."
There were plenty of other contributors for Boston, including David Ortiz (3-for-5), Will Middlebrooks (2-for-4) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (2-for-4).
And from the mound, lefty Felix Doubront wasn't spectacular, but he did enough to get the win, scattering six hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings.
"Pretty good," Doubront said of his outing. "With my location, I tried to get the hitters off-balance. My arm and my delivery feel great. This first game was good."
The bullpen took it from there, getting the final 11 outs.
Before Uehara's blur of a save, Brandon Workman, Chris Capuano and Junichi Tazawa all did their jobs.
Following the game, the Sox packed their belongings and headed back to Boston, where they will receive their championship rings and open their Fenway slate against the Brewers on Friday afternoon.
Before going home, Farrell's team swung the bats well all night, cranking out 14 hits, though it didn't lead to a barrage of runs.
Bogaerts and Daniel Nava helped set up the first run when they led off the second with singles. Though Middlebrooks hit into a 6-4-3 double play, Bogaerts scored to make it 1-0.
Bradley, making his first start of the season, got things started in the third with an infield hit. With two outs, Ortiz blooped one into left and Nelson Cruz tried to make a sprawling catch. Instead, the ball squirted past him and Bradley motored all the way in from first on a single.
"When I started off, I got a great jump," said Bradley. "I saw Nelson try to make an attempt for a diving play. After that, I just put my head down. I knew it was going to be close. I just kept booking and standing up."
In the fourth, it was David Ross who came through with an RBI single to left to give Doubront a 3-0 lead.
Chris Davis, who clubbed 53 home runs last season, nearly had his first this year. But his towering shot went off the wall in center for a double in the bottom of the fourth. He scored on a double to right-center by Matt Wieters. Delmon Young followed with an RBI single off the wall in right to make it a 3-2 game.
But the Boston bats kept coming. Middlebrooks ignited the rally in the sixth with a one-out double. Bradley smashed a single up the middle and Middlebrooks scored from second to make it a two-run game.
Adam Jones nearly tied it with a two-run homer to left in the bottom of the sixth, but his drive down the line curled just foul.
And once it was Koji time, the Orioles had little chance to mount a comeback.
"Pretty sharp," said Farrell of Uehara. "A year older today. It's remarkable the consistency he shows and the elite performance he gives us, particularly in tight games like this. You see the pitch efficiency even better than in some other games. We're thankful we have him."