Deep bullpen comes together on the fly for Red Sox
Uehara shines as Boston's fourth closer option; Workman, others step up
Barry M. Bloom
BOSTON -- It wasn't the way Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington mapped it out, but the final bullpen configuration for his club made a huge contribution to winning another World Series title.
With Japanese star Koji Uehara filling a void as closer, saving three games, the bullpen held the Cardinals to four earned runs in 17 1/3 World Series innings. Three relievers -- including Uehara -- were perfect behind starter John Lackey as the Red Sox wrapped up the series with a 6-1 Game 6 win at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
"Well, thankfully the bullpen worked out," said the second-year GM as the Red Sox and family celebrated a World Series victory on the hallowed Fenway turf for the first time since 1918. "That part didn't turn out the way I or any of us had envisioned. The guys who were pitching in at the end of the year were not necessarily the guys we envisioned at the beginning of the year.
"It did come together. Obviously, the guys at the end -- with Uehara and Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman coming in late -- they just got the outs when they needed it. It was just a team effort. Every part of the team contributed."
Consider this: Uehara was Boston's fourth option as closer. The Red Sox signed Uehara as a free agent this past Dec. 18 to a two-year contract worth $9.25 million. Six days later, they made a six-player trade with Pittsburgh for Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan opened as the closer, but he was lost for the season because of an arm injury. Boston then turned to Andrew Bailey and Andrew Miller. All three are currently on the 60-day disabled list. Uehara, who started the season as a middle-inning reliever, wound up saving 21 games, plus seven more in the postseason.
A standout for the Yomiuri Giants on the same team as slugger Hideki Matsui, they are the only Japanese players to win both the Japan Series and the World Series, Matsui winning in the U.S. with the Yankees in 2009 when he was named Series MVP.
Manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves had their work cut out for them changing closers on the fly. Shifting around the back end of the 'pen changed the composition of the rest of it. That all happened as the Red Sox tied the Cards for a Major League-best 97 victories and won the tough American League East.
"You look at guys that have played key roles in this postseason that started the year in Double-A," Farrell said. "Brandon Workman pitching the eighth inning tonight or Koji Uehara being the fourth closer we had to turn to because of injury to Joel Hanrahan and Bailey. I don't know that you start the year and finish with the same roster. That rarely happens. But fortunately the depth of this roster played out time and time again. And that was no different than how we finished out October."
Consider this, too, that Boston finished 14th out of the 15 AL teams during the regular season with only 33 saves and 10th with a 3.70 bullpen ERA. Yet the latest configuration was at peak performance, shutting down Tampa Bay in a four-game AL Division Series and allowing only one earned run in 21 innings while defeating Detroit in a six-game AL Championship Series. The World Series offered just more of the same.
"We knew what we had," Nieves said. "Even in Spring Training, Uehara threw a number of six-pitch innings with a couple of punchouts. It's a credit to Ben Cherington and the depth of the pitching staff when you lose not only Hanrahan and Bailey, but you lose a guy like Andrew Miller. And I thought Andrew Miller was clicking on all cylinders when he got hurt. He's a guy who throws 97 from the left side.
"So it's a credit to Ben and the Boston organization to be able to have that much depth."