After taking Red Sox Nation by storm with 2013 post-season emergence, Koji Uehara walks off the mound following nine major league seasons.
It seems as though it was just yesterday when the story behind the emergence of Koji Uehara in a Boston Red Sox uniform unfolded.
It was back in December of 2012 that the Red Sox brought in the veteran, late-inning right handed reliever on a one-year contract from Texas.
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I’ll be the first to admit, I had no clue what to expect from Koji Uehara when first signed. An age 38 relief pitcher, coming off a stint in Texas where he flipped his ERA from 4.00 in 22 games to end the 2011 season, to major drop of 1.75 in 37 appearances the following year.
So… yeah. I wasn’t the guy walking around Fenway with my chest pumped in the air every-time Uehara came out the pen to finish the ninth inning. However considering how incompetent our previous bullpen experiments were.
Andrew Bailey, Bobby Jenks, Joel Hanrahan, cough, cough. With those stints speaking for themselves, I was all for any arm I hadn’t seen before pitch in a Red Sox uniform.
However, Koji Uehara quickly became quite the contrary to the recent trend of front office bullpen experiments. It was like Uehara was the good luck quarter in John Henry’s pocket that he wasn’t even aware of.
Lightning in a bottle
A one-year deal worth just $4.255M would flip the fortunes of Fenway Park bullpen woo’s for an unforgettable and legendary stretch that quickly cemented itself as one of the greatest rapid fire closer emergences from a Red Sox pitcher perhaps in my lifetime. Uehara quickly left the streets of Boston trading their number 19, Josh Beckett jerseys for a fresh, new U-E-H-A-R-A tee wherever available.
It was insanely amazing and certainly the single greatest one-year contract, bullpen acquisition that my memory could recall. It was ridiculously satisfying how assuring the sight of watching Koji Uehara out of the bullpen was. I wasn’t so sure and confident of anything else in my life than watching Uehara make his way to the mound from right field as that epic techno music plays all around Boston, giving former closer Jonathan Papelbon a run for his money towards the “upmost epic Red Sox bullpen entrance” title.
Now aside from the phenomenon of what the Koji Uehara emergence sparked off the field, it’s time to tip our caps and say thank you to Koji for his iconic tenure in Boston.
To say that Koji Uehara was “lights-out” in 2013 wouldn’t properly suit his display of pure excellence on the mound. Uehara posted an ERA of 1.61 in 74 2/3 innings pitched with 101 strikeouts. He notched a career-high of 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings and oh yeah.. he finished seventh in the Cy Young Award race following the season.
Most importantly, Uehara’s dominance carried on against the dominant Detroit Tigers offense led by the man who led the MLB with a .348 batting average to accompany his 44 home runs and 137 RBIs, and also happened to be coming off a Triple-Crown winning 2012 season. One of the most feared righty’s in the game history Miguel Cabrera.
Yet none of that didn’t seem to faze Koji one bit.
In the 2013 American League Championship Series, Uehara was about as automatic as Stephen Curry from the free-throw line. Uehara pitched 6.0 innings out of the bullpen in the six-game series, earning one win and three saves. He allowed just four hits while striking out eight and walking zero batters.
Nearly incomprehensible to believe that the same man hoisting the ALCS Most Valuable Player trophy over his head before the Fenway crowd, didn’t even make the cut on the Texas Rangers World Series roster two years prior.
Then of course, the World Series. What better way to cap off an ALCS MVP performance than to pitch 5.0 innings of rapid dominance.. Uehara would throw 5.0 innings in which he’d allow just two hits, walk no batters, allow no runs, and strike-out three.
A movie scripted way to bounce back from being left off the 2011 World Series.
Again, thank you Koji Uehara. Your legacy has been cemented among the many title hero’s of Boston. From the first to final out of the 2013 season. Never will your heroic 2013 efforts go forgotten. Hat’s off to Uehara!
Sincerely, Red Sox Nation.