Koji Uehara loses streak as Red Sox falter in ninth
The font size on Koji Uehara’s name grew every time he set down a batter.
Since July 9, he had retired 37 straight. It was like watching a pitcher throw a no-hitter (and then some) in one-inning episodes.
The run was four shy of the streak of untouchability that Bobby Jenks (41) went on in 2007, the longest by a reliever in history.
With the Sox knotted at 2-2 with the Orioles going into the ninth, Uehara came on looking to inch closer to the mark.
After firing two fastballs at designated hitter Danny Valencia — pitches Valencia could only foul off — Uehara was a strike away from making it 38.
Then, in a blink, the streak snapped.
The chest-high fastball Valencia chased barely grazed the outside part of the plate.
“It was probably a little bit higher than I wanted,” Uehara said. “But location-wise, I didn’t really miss the spot, but a little bit high.”
But with two strikes, Valencia was committed to hack at it.
Valencia sent it gliding into deep center field, and even though Shane Victorino had chased down a similar ball the inning before, the best he could do was get a glove on it and watch it bounce in for a triple.
“He made a good pitch,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “I think Valencia took more of a defensive swing. He’s got good pop and was able to put out there and Vic couldn’t get to it.”
Suddenly, with the go-ahead run 90 feet from the plate, Uehara’s streak was less important.
Matt Wieters launched a fly ball to right field to score pinch runner Alexi Casilla and give a late lead to an Orioles team fighting for a playoff spot. It was the first run Uehara had allowed in 30⅓ innings.
The run gave Baltimore a 3-2 win that not only moved the Orioles 2½ games behind Tampa Bay and Texas for the final wild-card spot, but kept Boston from clinching its first playoff berth since 2009.
That mattered more to Uehara.
“I’m not disappointed that the streak ended,” Uehara said. “Of course, I’m disappointed that we lost. But streak-wise, no disappointment.”
As the outs piled up, Uehara said, he never felt pressure building with them.
“Not at all,” he said. “When I was pitching, I didn’t think about the streak at all. All the disappointment is that the team lost.”
But with the season Uehara’s put together, manager John Farrell couldn’t find it in himself to be disappointed in his closer.
Before the game, he looked back.
His Plan A at closer, Joel Hanrahan, struggled before going down for the season with Tommy John surgery.
His Plan B, Andrew Bailey, was inconsistent before a right shoulder strain ended his season.
Uehara, Farrell said before the game, “was a godsend.”
That didn’t change after Uehara’s first loss of the season.
“At the time of the game, that’s the difference in it,” Farrell said. “But Koji’s been so good for us and even after the run allowed he continued to pitch as he has. Didn’t faze him. He finished out the inning.”
Going 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position was more costly for the Red Sox. The Orioles’ three double plays were like tripwire at the end of every scoring opportunity.
Dustin Pedroia didn’t hesitate to put the Red Sox on the board, leading off the night with his ninth home run, snapping a 176-at-bat stretch without a homer.
But after that, the Red Sox squandered scoring chances, including a bases-loaded situation in the second and a two-on, two-out situation the fourth.
“Just a number of missed opportunities early on,” Farrell said. “I thought we did an excellent job of putting ourselves in position to have people in scoring position. The three double plays they turned were key.”
Between Manny Machado’s error fielding a Saltalamacchia one-out ground ball in the outfield with the shift on, Scott Feldman’s walk to Stephen Drew, and Nate McClouth muffing Xander Bogaerts’s sacrifice fly to left, the Orioles did everything they could to give the Sox a run in the fifth.
But it only cost them one run — Saltalamacchia coming across on Bogaerts’s fly ball.
And even though he issued six walks in his five innings of work, Feldman managed to put a muzzle on a Red Sox offense that had scored 100 runs and hit 24 homers in their 14 games in September (both major-league highs).
Altogether, the Orioles used six pitchers to hold Boston to three hits.
It spoiled a strong outing from Ryan Dempster, who went six innings, giving up two runs on three hits and four walks. He used his sinker, splitter, and fastball to notch five strikeouts but left the mound without factoring into the decision.
He gave up deep home run to straightaway center to Chris Davis to lead off the sixth. It was the 21st solo homer he had allowed this season, but against a player with 51 of them, he wasn’t upset.
“He’s strong, man,” Dempster said. “He just lifted that ball and got it up in the air — way, way up in the air — and it just kept carrying.”
If anything, Dempster was sad to see Uehara’s streak come to an end.
“When did he give up a run, like in spring training?” Dempster said. “It feels that long ago. To go out there, whether you’re a reliever or a starter, to go out there that long without allowing a baserunner, what he’s done has been unreal.”
Almost as unreal as not seeing him do it again.
“He’s human,” Saltalamacchia said. “He’s still consistent for us, still our guy.”
Having pitched a 1-2-3 inning in a tight spot in the eighth, Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow wasn’t worried about Uehara, either.
“I’m pretty confident Koji will start another streak tomorrow,” he said.