Pinpointing the place of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in Boston Red Sox history isn’t easy.
The two relievers — who both will reportedly have new homes in 2017 — largely will be forgotten over time with only casual references. Their names will be brought up, and fans will think, “Oh, yeah. I remember them,” before going about their way.
Perhaps Uehara will provoke a little more in the mind’s eye. He was the “better” pitcher during their respective times in Boston, and he was the closer, so you’ll remember him being on the mound as the Red Sox closed out games. There’s no better example of that than the 2013 World Series, where Uehara secured the final out, striking out Matt Carpenter in Game 6 to give Boston its third World Series title in the span of nine years.
But by and large, there’s not a whole lot that really jumps out about their Red Sox careers. That’s not to say they weren’t good players — quite the opposite, actually.
However, let’s not forget that 2013 season, particularly the playoffs, where both raised their games to heights we really hadn’t seen out of either of them.
Let’s start with Tazawa. He was incredible during that 2013 run. The right-hander worked in 13 of Boston’s 16 playoff games, posting scoreless outings in all but one of those appearances. He faced 26 batters, allowing just six hits and a walk while striking out six.
Perhaps nothing he did, however, was bigger than his Game 3 appearance in the American League Championship series. Tazawa came into the game with one out in the bottom of the eighth and the Red Sox leading 1-0. With a runner on first, he allowed a single to Torii Hunter that moved Austin Jackson to third.
With runners on first and third in an extremely important spot — the series was tied at a game apiece — Miguel Cabrera strolled to the plate. Cabrera still presents a threat to this day, but in 2013, he was in the middle of his prime, coming off a second straight MVP season, a year in which he hit .348.
And then Tazawa did this.
Four fastballs, three strikes — all of them swinging. (He’d get Cabrera again in Game 5, too.)
With Prince Fielder following, it was Uehara’s turn to hold the lead. Three pitches later, the Red Sox were out the jam.
When it was all said and done, Uehara and Tazawa combined to pitch 13 2/3 innings that fall, allowing just two earned runs (1.32 ERA). The Red Sox wouldn’t have won the 2013 World Series without them.
That alone is worth some recognition, don’t you think?
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images