Koji Uehara unveils new secret weapon for World Series save like no other
|10.28.13 at 10:02 am ET|
ST. LOUIS — It had been a while since Koji Uehara had thrown to first base. A long while.
“His last pickoff throw was the third-to-last game of the year,” noted Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. “I pay attention to those things.”
Now, Uehara has one pickoff throw in the postseason, and it proved a historic one. In the bottom of the ninth inning, asked to close out a 4-2 win, Uehara permitted a long one-out single to right that one-hopped the fence by injured Cardinals slugger Allen Craig. The fact that it was Craig who crushed the pitch was noteworthy, given that any other player on the Cardinals roster would have advanced to at least second base. But the hobbled slugger, limited to swinging a bat and little else, could do no more than limp to first, where he was replaced immediately by pinch-runner Kolten Wong.
Uehara got a pop-up from Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter, bringing Carlos Beltran — one of the best postseason performers of this generation — to the plate representing the tying run. On a 1-1 pitch, Uehara executed a perfectly timed spin and throw to first, at a time when Wong was trying to jump out to a secondary lead at first. Caught leaning, Wong was unable to retreat to the bag, thus becoming the first game-ending pickoff victim in World Series history.
“I just did it on my own,” Uehara said through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto. “I didn’t read any scouting report.”
Still, it was a conversation that Uehara had during the advance scouting meetings to discuss the preparation for the Cardinals, Lovullo had encouraged the right-hander — who had two pickoffs in his career, most recently in 2011 when he was with the Rangers — to consider throwing to first, knowing that he has quick feet and a good move.
“In our meeting, I speak through the interpreter, so I’m not exactly sure how the message gets portrayed, but I talk about how strong his move is. There’s strength to it. So don’t be afraid to use it if you want to throw over at any time. Don’t hesitate,” said Lovullo. “In our advance scouting meeting with the pitchers, we talk about some tendencies and habits. I encourage these guys to throw over on their own. Whether or not he was trying to mix up the looks or throw a hitter off his rhythm, those are things we talk about. There was a method to his madness.”
Madness was a good word for what transpired. Shock, on the part of the Cardinals, was another, as St. Louis saw a game conclude in stunning fashion — the culmination, some Sox noted, of a reversal from the events of Game 3, when the Sox suffered a 5-4 walkoff loss that ended in confusion with the obstruction call that awarded the game-winning run to Craig.
“That was wild. That was awesome. It was kind of like [Game 3]. I bet they’re dumbfounded, like, ‘What just happened?’ ” said Sox catcher David Ross. “We had one of the better, probably second to [David Ortiz] for me, one of the best postseason hitters up (Beltran) and [Wong] gets picked off. I was real happy.”
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