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Craig Breslow’s playoff blog: An experience I can’t entirely remember but will not forget

10.06.13 at 1:21 am ET
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Red Sox left-hander Craig Breslow will contribute regularly to this blog throughout his team’s postseason run. In addition to his work on the mound, the eight-year big leaguer is also the founder and executive director of the Strike 3 Foundation, a charitable agency that heightens awareness, mobilizes support, and raises funding for childhood cancer research. To learn more about the Strike 3 Foundation, and its new Play It Forward program, click here.

Red Sox left-hander Craig Breslow reacts to an inning-ending double play in the seventh. (AP)

Red Sox left-hander Craig Breslow reacts to an inning-ending double play in the seventh, concluding his 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his postseason debut. (AP)

Saturday offered my first chance to pitch in a playoff game. What was it like? At one point, David Ross visited the mound before Ben Zobrist‘s at-bat. What did he say? Honestly, I don’t even remember.

Don’t let him know that.

To be perfectly honest, I can’t compare the feeling that I had on the mound — especially after Zobrist grounded into a double play to end the seventh — to any other experience I’ve had on a baseball field. Obviously we’re all aware of, cognizant of the stage we’re playing on, but when 37,000 people are getting behind you and you know exactly what’s at stake, I don’t think there can be anything that lives up to that except maybe as we kind of progressively move further on in this, if that happens.

Zobrist, a switch-hitter batting right-handed, hit a two-seam fastball that I was able to locate away. That was a pitch that I started to throw with confidence only in the middle of last season.

The driver behind developing the two-seamer was actually facing lefties. As a left-hander, that’s kind of a staple of your job — you come in to get lefties out and often times it’s going to be the one best left-handed hitter in the opposing lineup. And I felt like I had a pretty good breaking ball moving away from lefties and I could throw a four-seam fastball down and away pretty well.

But as that pattern got around the league, I felt like guys would start to lean out over the plate, and I was getting beaten on pretty good pitches with guys driving the ball up the middle or the other way. I thought, “I need to have something that’s going to keep them honest and open up the inside of the plate so that I can then go back away.”

So I developed it against lefties, and as I’ve thrown it, I’ve noticed that it’s a pitch that’s been successful for me to both righties and lefties. My confidence with it clicked about halfway through last year. It’s a big groundball pitch for me, so when I find myself in situations where it’s actually what I need, to keep the ball on the ground, it’s been pretty good for me. Even when I fall behind to a righty, I still feel like I can be aggressive and challenge him with the pitch to get weak contact. That held true in the sixth inning, when Sean Rodriguez grounded to Stephen Drew on a 1-0 two-seamer, and again in the seventh, when Zobrist hit the ball to Dustin Pedroia.

Dustin made a fantastic play even though the ball looked like it took an unpredictable hop. I’ve been saying for some time, this is as good a defense as I’ve ever pitched for. Maybe because guys aren’t the flashiest, it often gets overlooked. But they make all the routine plays and then some. You feel so confident that if the ball hits the ground and you see that in front of you, that it’s going to be converted to an out. They range so well that I know balls on the right side of me, Dustin is getting them or on the left side, Stephen is making plays up the middle.

When you combine that with the homework our coaching staff does in positioning guys, off the bat I feel like a number of times this season I’ve given up a hit and I turn around and it’s squaring somebody up. We just feel so good about attacking hitters, being aggressive and going at guys because of how solid our defense has been all season.

This was a great night for our entire bullpen. Junichi Tazawa got through the eighth inning, and then I think we all probably thought Koji Uehara was going to strike out the side on nine pitches. He showed he was human because there were a couple foul balls.

But what he’s done is absolutely unbelievable. John Lackey and I were joking, why don’t we just start him and see how long he can go? If it’s three or four innings and 15 to 20 pitches and he gets tired, then we’ll worry about bringing somebody in behind him.

The best perspective on his stuff has got to come from a hitter because the way I see it, his stuff seems very pedestrian. It seems almost like, ‘Huh, maybe I can mess around with a splitter and get a pitch like that.’ Then you see the swings that guys take and you see the results that he’s gotten — not over an inning or two innings but 75 innings. I think collectively we’re all missing something, because the swings that guys take at that pitch are like he’s throwing a wiffleball.

As far as the bullpen as a group, maybe it took a little bit of creativity to maybe piece together a few innings and match up a little bit. Ultimately I think success in the postseason is going to come down to guys making pitches. You’re not going to go out there with your best stuff every time but when the game is on the line. Being able to make pitches is likely going to be the difference between winning and losing. We did that in Game 2.

This is a team that’s very confident in its abilities and has I think a strong identity, but any time you can go up two games I feel like that’s incredibly beneficial, especially a team like Tampa that seems like it feeds off momentum.

I think it’s important to go down there and come out of the gates and understand that winning on Monday is as important as winning either of these last two games. You don’t want to give a team like that a chance to kind of catch its breath and a chance to build some momentum. But as I’ve said before, we’re running out our third consecutive ace, so we’ve got all the confidence in Clay Buchholz going out there on Monday.

Read More: ALDS, Ben Zobrist, Craig Breslow, Dustin Pedroia
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