Let's appreciate Koji Uehara on day he hangs them up

Rob Bradford
May 20, 2019 - 8:39 am

The Koji Uehara run was something we shouldn't forget.

Obviously reflecting on a relief pitcher's time in Boston three years after he left would seem a bit of a reach, but not Monday. This is the day Uehara has decided to retire from professional baseball and if anybody deserves some reflection it is this guy.

Uehara pitched for the Red Sox from 2013-16, finishing off his Major League Baseball career in 2017 with the Cubs. He only spent nine seasons in the United States, with the majority of the time spent as a semi-innocuous middle relief pitcher. But what he did for the Sox over a three season span was so unique the rest really isn't all that important.

Through the run Uehara -- the guy the Red Sox signed for $2 million to be an extra part in the 2013 bullpen -- was perhaps the best closer in baseball.

In those 193 games, Uehara offered a presence that was almost unimaginable. Over 192 2/3 innings, he struck out 244 and walked ... 24. His batting average against in those three seasons was .174 with an ERA of 1.78.

The signature season, of course, came during the Red Sox' 2013 World Series run during which he fanned 101, walked nine and finished with a batting average against of .130. As good as Jonathan Papelbon was, we really hadn't seen anything like what Uehara presented that season. In fairness, few had. For example, Mariano Rivera's lowest opponent's batting average for a season was .165.

And to think that Uehara was introduced to the Red Sox as a middle-relief pitcher. In his first game with the Sox he entered in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium, with four relievers ultimately coming in after him. It wasn't until June, 2013 he really got a chance to close out games at all.

If not for injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, along with the discomfort of Junichi Tazawa to pitch in the ninth inning, Uehara would have lived the life of a closer. But, thankfully for the Red Sox, he did.

From the time Uehara took over as closer on June 26, 2013 until he got that final out in the World Series, the righty struck out 75 in 58 innings and walked two. TWO. In 54 appearances he allowed runs just four times.

There was also the way he did. A high 80's fastball that introduced us all to the magic of spin rate, along with the celebratory high-fives after eighth-inning escapes.

He was the kind of pitcher we should always remember, especially on a day like this one.