Enter the Red Sox’ bullpen.
With the game hanging in the balance, Junichi Tazawa came on in relief and retired three straight hitters in the sixth inning, keeping the Red Sox’ lead intact amid some tense moments. Tazawa then struck out the side in the seventh, and the Boston bullpen eventually tossed four perfect innings — striking out eight in the process — to secure a 6-3 victory in Cleveland.
The effort only adds to the success the Red Sox’ bullpen has already enjoyed this season, and has the potential to enjoy going forward. Sure, there have been brief hiccups here and there — most notably, the struggles of Joel Hanrahan — but for the most part, the unit continues to shine during a time when things are clicking on all cylinders for the Red Sox.
Boston’s success thus far stems in large part from the starting rotation, which one could argue has been the best in baseball through the first couple of weeks of the season. Red Sox starters have allowed three total runs or fewer in all 14 of their games, which is the longest such streak to begin a season in franchise history. In fact, no American League team has started a season with such a streak since the 1990 Brewers (whose streak was also 14 games).
The Red Sox’ streak was put in jeopardy on Wednesday night, though, and the bullpen responded by picking up the slack. That’s exactly what this Sox team has been priding itself on in the early going. If something — or someone — in particular isn’t working, the rest of the team compensates.
Aceves hadn’t surrendered a run through five innings on Wednesday night, but Red Sox manager John Farrell decided to bring out the right-hander for another inning in the sixth in what was a relatively surprising move. Aceves’ pitch count in just his second start was up to 87, and he barely escaped the fifth inning unscathed after loading the bases, yet Farrell wanted to try and squeeze another inning out of Aceves.
The decision almost proved costly. Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi connected on back-to-back jacks to cut Boston’s lead to 5-3 before Farrell then turned to Tazawa, who settled everything down.
Tazawa gave way to Koji Uehara after two innings, and Uehara continued his dominant stretch, which dates back to last season. Uehara has now tossed 18 consecutive scoreless innings going back to Sept. 1, 2012, which is a personal career-long streak for him at the major league level. The stretch spans 21 outings, during which Uehara has struck out 26 while yielding just three hits and walking two (one intentionally).
Andrew Bailey, serving as the team’s closer in Hanrahan’s absence, bounced back from Monday’s blown save to strike out two as part of a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Red Sox, who had 15 hits and failed to score with the bases loaded on two separate occasions, should have won Wednesday’s game easily. Instead, it was a grind, and Boston’s bullpen was up to the challenge.
Being able to grind out wins is exactly why the Red Sox are now six games over .500 in 2013 — a mark they never reached in 2012.