Koji Uehara surrenders critical home run to Rays

Koji Uehara watches the flight of a home run by Yunel Escobar of the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth inning.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Koji Uehara watches the flight of a home run by Yunel Escobar of the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth inning.

It didn’t take much to sum up four years of futility for Yunel Escobar.

He had faced Koji Uehara 11 times — had seen all of 35 pitches — and all he had to show for it were outs.

There were six fly balls, a couple of popups, a couple of groundouts, and a six-pitch strikeout.


Beyond the track record Uehara made for himself saving 21 regular-season games en route to the World Series last season, Red Sox manager John Farrell had enough evidence to believe Uehara would have no issues with Escobar leading off the ninth in Thursday night’s Game 2.

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“[He] pretty much dominated him in the number of at-bats he’s had against him,” Farrell said.

But when an 0-and-1 splitter got away from Uehara, Escobar sent it — and all the numbers — screaming over the Monster and onto Lansdowne Street.

The blast was the difference in the Sox’ 6-5 loss in the nightcap of their doubleheader with the Rays.

It was just the fourth home run Uehara had allowed at Fenway since coming to Boston.


“I just left the ball up,” Uehara said through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto.

Uehara was tagged with a loss for the first time since Tampa’s Jose Lobaton got him for a walkoff homer in Game 3 of last year’s ALDS.

It was his first regular-season loss since Sept. 17, 2013, against Baltimore.

It was the second time in his past three outings that Uehara allowed a run. Last Saturday in Toronto, he came on in the eighth inning for a four-out save, giving up a homer to Jose Bautista along the way.

After being shut down briefly in mid-April because of stiffness in his right shoulder, the immediate question was whether Uehara felt completely healthy.


He said he felt fine.

“If I wasn’t feeling physically fine, I wouldn’t be pitching,” Uehara said.

Farrell said the same.

“Since that spell of three or four days that we stayed away from him he’s come back and pitched physically fine,” Farrell said. “It was a split that stayed up on the plate that Escobar hit out of the ballpark. He has not mentioned anything as far as restrictions physically.”

If anything, Uehara said, it’s a matter of Escobar jumping on a strike when he saw it. Uehara has flooded the zone with strikes this season (115 of his 155 pitches). He needed just three pitches to strike out Ben Zobrist to record his fifth save of the season Tuesday in the series opener.

“I think I’m just pounding the strike zone too much,” he said.

After six innings of work, Sox starter Felix Doubront handed the ball over to the bullpen with a 5-4 lead.

Burke Badenhop got an out, but Junichi Tazawa gave up a pair of two-out hits in the eighth, including an RBI single to James Loney that tied it. The next inning, Uehara gave up the homer.

“I’m not disappointed,” Doubront said. “Everybody has a bad night. I think those guys, they’re good. It wasn’t their night today. I’m not worried about that. I know they can bounce back and do better tomorrow.”

Though they’re certain Uehara is healthy, the Sox got a reminder that he’s not invincible.

“It’s unbelievable what he’s been able to do,” said first baseman Mike Napoli. “You know, he is human. Stuff like that happens. But he’s going to keep going. He’s a good pitcher. We have faith in him and we’ll support him any way we can.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at