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Red Sox bullpen domination recognized as Koji Uehara named ALCS MVP

10.20.13 at 4:37 am ET
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Xander Bogaerts produced moments that were head-shaking, historic given his age. Yet he was most impressed not by anything that he did but instead by the performance of one of his teammates.

Koji Uehara was named ALCS MVP in recognition of his six shutout innings and role in each Sox win. (AP)

Koji Uehara was named ALCS MVP in recognition of his six shutout innings and role in each Sox win. (AP)

“When [Koji Uehara] came in, did he throw a ball? He threw only strikes!” marveled Bogaerts, taking note of the fact that all 11 pitches the Red Sox closer fired in the ninth inning of Game 6 to lock down a 5-2 win found the strike zone. “It was unbelievable. I mean, throw one ball, at least.”

No chance. Uehara continued his remarkable assault on the strike zone, firing all 11 pitches for strikes and eliciting a pair of strikeouts while working around a hit. In the process, he earned his third save of the series. The only Red Sox victory that he did not save, in fact, was the one where he earned a win with a scoreless ninth in the Sox’ walkoff victory in Game 2.

Given his starring role in all four Red Sox victories, it came as little surprise that Uehara was named the ALCS MVP. He concluded the series with five appearances spanning six shutout innings, allowing four hits and no walks while punching out nine. The accidental closer — the Sox’ fourth choice this year for ninth-inning duties — punctuated a revelatory year by delivering the final out (for the record: a strikeout of former teammate Jose Iglesias) that punched the Sox’ ticket to the World Series.

“All I can say is that I’m extremely, extremely happy right now,” Uehara said.

He’s not alone. The Sox bullpen ended up providing extraordinary relief, not just form Uehara but from primary setup men Junichi Tazawa (another out against Miguel Cabrera) and Craig Breslow (who fired a perfect eighth) as well as, in Game 6, an exceptional performance by Brandon Workman, who inherited runners on the corners and no outs and immediately elicited an unusual 4-2 double play that involved a pair of tags (first Dustin Pedroia tagging Victor Martinez on his way from first to second, then firing home where Jarrod Saltalamacchia ran down Prince Fielder near third base) followed by a strikeout of Alex Avila to keep the Sox’ deficit limited to 2-1.

The Sox bullpen ended up getting credited with four shutout innings behind starter Clay Buchholz, finishing the ALCS with 21 innings pitched and just one earned run allowed, with a 0.43 ERA that is the best ever in the LCS from a team that got at least 20 innings of relief work.

“I thought their starters were good,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “I thought their bullpen was great.”

That performance, in turn, flew in the face of the expectations that greeted the Sox when they started the postseason. There had been questions prior to the start of the postseason about the relief corps leading up to Uehara. Yet that crew answered the call in startling fashion.

“I think coming to the postseason, there were a lot of questions circling around out guys to bridge it to Koji,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “And they couldn’t have pitched any more consistently, more effectively.”

But in the end, while the bridge to Uehara proved extremely sturdy, it was the closer himself who dazzled.

“Who else would [the MVP] be? The guy didn’t throw a ball, let alone give up runs. It’s special watching him finish games,” said Workman. “We were able to get it done this series. I don’t know the numbers on it or whatever, but we threw well this series. We were able to get the ball to Koji, who is as close to automatic as you can get.”

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