ST. LOUIS — It seemed oddly appropriate that closer Koji Uehara picked off Kolten Wong for the final out of Game 4. After all, with the final five innings placed in the hands of the Red Sox relievers, manager John Farrell admittedly got “a little creative,” using five pitchers out of the bullpen. That number included Felix Doubront, who earned the win, throwing 2⅔ innings and allowing only one run and one hit. The lefthanded starter-turned-reliever proved as unflappable and durable in Sunday night’s 4-2 victory as he was in two scoreless innings of relief Saturday in Game 3.
“I prepared myself to go more than two innings, at least, knowing that I threw two innings [Saturday] and [Sunday] was a different day,” said Doubront, who cruised through the fifth inning on nine pitches and also recorded three strikeouts in his stint.
“I think all the excitement and adrenaline [is there because] I want to pitch, and I want to be in the game, I want to be part of the team to win the game,’’ he said. “I was just relaxed and doing my job. When I got the opportunity I was so focused in. I don’t feel nothing. [I’m] just focusing on getting outs.”
Manager John Farrell praised Doubront’s poise in his postgame press conference. And it was especially valuable Sunday night given the uncertainty and scrutiny surrounding starter Clay Buchholz.
Entering Game 4, it was unclear how long Buchholz could last. But given his well-publicized arm fatigue, the Red Sox knew it wouldn’t be long. With the starter’s fastball surpassing 90 miles per hour on only a handful of occasions, it was time to yank Buchholz after four innings and rely on the relievers the rest of the way. So, the bullpen door opened early and often; for Doubront, then Craig Breslow, then Junichi Tazawa, then John Lackey, then Uehara.
Breslow was the only reliever who truly struggled, giving up a hit and a walk and failing to record an out. His ERA in the series is 54.00.
“I don’t think there’s anything going on with mechanics,” said Breslow. “I just need to make pitches. I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t think there’s a story here. It’s a matter of getting out there and executing pitches, getting outs and grinding through the same way everybody else is.”
But in what proved a strong patchwork of relievers, Tazawa was there to pick up Breslow and make sure the runners left on base by the Yalie didn’t score. Tazawa got Matt Holliday to ground to second.
“Yesterday, I let the runners that Breslow left on base score,” said Tazawa. “So I was trying not to have that happen again. I was just glad that I was able to do so. It’s all about picking other guys up. We were able to do our respective jobs for the last five innings.”
Lackey, who will start Game 6, told Farrell he was available, if needed. And he was in the eighth. It was only the fourth time in his career that he has pitched in relief, first since 2004.
“I felt all right. The inning when I was warming up was kind of a long inning. That was kind of strange. I was trying not to throw too much when I was warming up, save a little bit for on the mound. It was different. It’s been a while, but I got through it and got to the closer.”
Then, Uehara arrived. And while it was not his usual easy-going ninth, and home run threat Carlos Beltran did come to the plate representing the tying run, he went for the unorthodox final out on the pickoff and got it.
After the game, however, Uehara admitted he “wasn’t trying to get the last out at first. It just happened.”
Uehara added: “I knew going in that the relievers would have to do a lot of heavy lifting. So, I was prepared. Especially how Doubront pitched the last couple days. That was a very big performance on his part.”
Farrell noted that the pickoff by Uehara was not something that he requested or suggested.
“That was on his own,” said Farrell. “We were talking about some things in the dugout with position because we’ve used the shift against Beltran. And we didn’t want to give up the potential for a bunt base hit with Holliday swinging the bat well on deck. In the conversation, he picked off [Wong] and the game was over. It was all on Uehara.”
And a good portion of the win was on the collective efforts of the relievers.