Red Sox bullpen stands strong

Miguel Cabrera struck out here in the 8th inning against Junichi Tazawa.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Miguel Cabrera struck out here in the 8th inning against Junichi Tazawa.

DETROIT — Starter John Lackey grudgingly left Game 3 of the ALCS with a few choice words. For lip readers out there, it looked a lot like, ‘You’ve got to be [expletive] me.” But manager John Farrell wasn’t, so Lackey took a seat on the bench as the Boston bullpen went to work with two outs in the seventh. From the dugout, Lackey had a great view of scoreless relief pitching by lefthander Craig Breslow, righthander Junichi Tazawa, and righthanded closer Koji Uehara.

“We all live and die with every pitch, especially when we’re taking the ball from a starter,” said Breslow, who replaced Lackey. “Nobody wants a loss on their shoulders. But at the same time, starters have confidence in the bullpen. And we’ve got confidence that if John says he wants to go back out there that he’s going to be able to put together some quality pitches and get some outs.

“It’s in a starter’s nature to never ask out of a game, especially a bulldog like Lackey. If he had his way, he would pitch until the game was over. At the same time, he understands what’s at stake and he’s the first guy to congratulate everybody else.”


Confounding Detroit hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Alex Avila, the bullpen preserved a 1-0 advantage and helped Boston to a 2-1 series lead. Breslow, Tazawa, and Uehara all admitted a case of nerves when it came to protecting the slimmest of leads. But they pitched 2 innings with four strikeouts and two hits.

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“This is what we live for, to pitch in the postseason and have an impact on the outcome of the game,” said Breslow, who pitched of an inning and struck out Jose Iglesias. “I probably wasn’t as shocked as I was today as I have been in the past. I felt like I made pitches when I needed to. Taz obviously got a huge strikeout. Then, when you get Koji into the game, I think there’s a little sense of relief. Koji’s been Koji.”

The huge strikeout by Tazawa came against Cabrera in the eighth with runners on first and third. Throwing fastballs, Tazawa got Cabrera swinging. While his Red Sox teammates came away impressed by the strikeout, Tazawa seemed quite the opposite. In the clubhouse after the game, while some teammates watched replays of the strikeout, Tazawa checked the messages on his phone.

“The sequence was all fastballs,” said Tazawa. “He was obviously a very good hitter, so I had that in my mind. But Salty [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] put me in a really good spot and I was able to get him out. I was thinking that walking him was not the worst thing to do. So, I was using outside fastballs a lot. Luckily, he swung at balls outside the strike zone.”

While all three relievers admitted to nerves before taking the mound, Uehara was the most candid about his jitters. When asked if he gets nervous, he said, “Of course, I almost throw up. Every day.” But Uehara looked supremely confident throwing a splitter to Avila that produced a game ending strikeout. “That was the first time I’ve seen him this season and that’s the nastiest pitch I’ve seen,” said Avila of the splitter. Meanwhile, Uehara was focused on keeping Detroit off the scoreboard. “I knew that if I gave up a hit that it was going to [result in a] score,” said Uehara, who earned the save. “Just putting up a zero was very good.”

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