Every time Koji Uehara takes the mound, catcher David Ross waits for it.
He knows it’s coming.
It’s been inevitable in almost all of Uehara’s past 19 outings.
It’s the moment he gets his third out, completes another scoreless inning, and goes into a high-volume, fist-pumping eruption.
“How can you not notice,” Ross said. “Let’s be honest. It fires me up when he comes into the dugout.
“I hope he has a good inning, not just for us to win but just to hear him come in there and start yelling and screaming. I love it. He gives me energy.”
This time the explosion came at the edgiest moment of the Red Sox’ airtight 2-1 win Saturday afternoon over the Rays at Fenway Park.
Offense had been scarce all day, but when closer Joel Hanrahan came on in the ninth with the game tied at 1 and walked the first two batters, the game started to teeter Tampa Bay’s way.
Uehara was throwing in the bullpen, but at no point did he expect to throw that inning.
He was bracing himself to throw if the game came down to extras.
“I was a little bit surprised,” he said through an interpreter.
But with two on and none out, the Red Sox didn’t have that luxury.
With Hanrahan again struggling to find the zone after blowing a save against the Orioles three days prior, the Sox were antsy to get Uehara in.
“I don’t need to throw that many pitches to get warmed up,” said Uehara. “So it was my normal routine.”
Crisis management his specialty, Uehara came in and sat down the next three batters in order, striking out James Loney looking, then popping up Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts.
It took all of nine pitches for Uehara to get things back under control.
“I was just going out there throwing strikes. I didn’t care about what would happen,” Uehara said. “I was just going out, being aggressive.”
An inning later, he watched as Jacoby Ellsbury scored the deciding run on Shane Victorino’s infield single. But Ellsbury pointed to Uehara’s inning as the game’s most crucial.
“First and second, no outs, for him to come in and get three outs, that’s the difference right there,” said Ellsbury.
Seeing Uehara tidy things up after him was a relief for Hanrahan, who has allowed nine of the past 14 batters he’s faced to reach base.
“I’m fighting some things with mechanics in my legs,” Hanrahan said. “It’s just something I’ve got to work on. I guess I’m more of a warm-weather guy, I don’t know. But it’s just something we’ve got to fight through.
“Obviously, it’s not the way I wanted it to go, but we’re still winning games. Our bullpen picked us up today and that’s what makes a good bullpen.”
Andrew Bailey again set the table nicely for Hanrahan, tossing a clean eighth. After giving up a double to start the 10th, Junichi Tazawa sat the Rays down in order, and picked up the win. Despite Hanrahan’s struggles, manager John Farrell still supported him as the closer.
“Right now Joel’s going through a little bit of a spell where things aren’t clicking for him,” Farrell said. “But we’re still with him. We’ve got a guy today [who] picked him up in Koji and did one heck of a job to shut off that threat in the ninth.”
Uehara ran his scoreless innings streak to 16, matching a career high. Coming in, his 2.31 ERA since moving to the bullpen two years ago was second among American League relievers over that span. Tops was Mariano Rivera’s 1.90.
“He’s not afraid,” Farrell said. “He throws strikes. We’re fortunate he’s in our pen.”
When his work was done, Uehara walked to the dugout in his own intense world, punching air and howling at no one in particular. Still, his screams rang out in the Red Sox dugout.
“I call it the war cry for him,” Ellsbury said. “He did great, he came in, he had a big task, a big hill to climb, getting outs with no one scoring, but he did everything that he needed to do and it fired us up.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.