BALTIMORE — So many Red Sox fans wished Koji Uehara a happy 39th birthday via Twitter on Thursday that he felt compelled to respond in English.
“Thank you everyone,” he wrote. “I will do my best.”
A few hours later, after his fellow pitchers serenaded him with an off-key version of “Happy Birthday” during pregame stretching, Uehara took the mound in the ninth inning with the Sox holding a one-run lead on the Baltimore Orioles.
Nothing was going to spoil his day. Uehara needed seven pitches to get three outs, and the Red Sox headed for Fenway Park with a 4-3 victory.
“Today I’m 29, not 39,” Uehara said.
Or maybe he’s immortal. In his two seasons with the Red Sox, Uehara has a 1.06 earned run average over 75 appearances. He is 4-1 and has converted 22 of 25 save chances.
If you count the postseason, Uehara has allowed one run on nine hits over his last 52⅔ innings with one walk and 66 strikeouts.
“The most impressive thing is to walk one,” Jon Lester said. “Last year he started getting credit for how good he is. Coming to Boston and getting a chance to close, it magnified what he does.
“We expect it from him now. He threw seven pitches tonight and that seems like too many. He needs to get that pitch count down.”
Manager John Farrell is running out of ways to describe Uehara.
“It’s remarkable the consistency he shows and the elite performance he gives us,” he said. “Particularly in tight games like this, you see the pitch efficiency even better than some other games. Thankful we have him.”
The Red Sox will receive their World Series rings on Friday and Uehara is eager to get his, even though he doesn’t favor flashy jewelry.
“I do want to wear it,” he said via interpreter C.J. Matsumoto.
Uehara pitched in 13 of the 16 postseason games last October after appearing in 73 games during the season. There were concerns the workload would have some physical effect, but Uehara was nearly perfect in spring training and pitched well in two games against the Orioles to help the Sox take the series.
But Uehara does not expect to repeat his success of last season.
“I don’t think I can accomplish the same thing I did,” he said. “I don’t believe that. Last year was just so special.”
Felix Doubront doesn’t believe that. The lefthander went 5⅓ innings on Thursday, allowing three runs on six hits. Brandon Workman allowed one inherited runner to score, but Chris Capuano, Junichi Tazawa, and Uehara held the Orioles down.
Doubront was watching from the clubhouse and had no concern he would get his first win of the season.
“Those guys, especially Koji, they make a starter feel good,” Doubront said. “He comes in and throws strikes and then we win the game. It’s amazing. We can’t expect anybody to be perfect but he is.”
Three players well away from middle age produced the bulk of the Red Sox’ offense. Xander Bogaerts, 21, was 3 for 4 and scored two runs. Jackie Bradley Jr., 23, was 2 for 4 with an RBI. Will Middlebrooks, 25, was 2 for 4 with an RBI. David Ortiz, who most certainly is not 21, added three hits and drove in a run.
Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen allowed 12 hits over 5⅔ innings but only four runs.
Bogaerts singled to start the second inning and went to third when Daniel Nava singled to right field. Middlebrooks was impatient and jumped at a low fastball that he grounded to shortstop. A run scored on the double play.
Bradley beat out an infield single to start the third inning. He was still at first base with two outs when Ortiz dropped a soft single into left field. Nelson Cruz lumbered in and made an awkward dive at the ball, which skipped by him.
Bradley, running hard all the way, scored without a throw. No error was charged but Cruz misplayed the ball into a run.
The Sox went up, 3-0, in the fourth inning. Bogaerts led off with a single to left field, took second on a single by Middlebrooks, and scored when David Ross grounded a single into left field.
A better left fielder might have had a shot at Bogaerts, but Cruz’s throw was late.
Chen did not get through the sixth inning. Middlebrooks doubled to left field with one out and scored when Bradley singled to center field.
In his last five starts against the Red Sox, Chen has allowed 21 earned runs on 45 hits over 26⅔ innings.
The Sox had 33 hits and drew eight walks in the series and their pitchers allowed seven earned runs. The bullpen pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings and struck out eight.
“I think we’re pleased coming out of spring training the way the first series has gone,” Farrell said.
Uehara ended the night by hopping off the mound and pumping his fist before embracing Ross. One celebration led to another.
“Now I just have to wait for the presents to come,” Uehara said.