Uehara, bullpen slam door emphatically on Rays
Breslow and Tazawa get key double plays in seventh and eighth
BOSTON -- The first three pitches Koji Uehara threw in his first postseason game as a member of the Red Sox were strikes.
Matt Joyce struck out. Much of the Fenway Park crowd stood up.
The next three pitches Uehara threw in the Red Sox's 7-4 win over the Rays on Saturday night were strikes.
Jose Lobaton struck out. The Fenway Park crowd roared.
"Man, how loud was that?" said catcher David Ross. "That was amazing. I just wanted to look up in the stands and take that all in for a minute. It was a lot of fun. This crowd, the first strikeout was loud, that second strikeout is as loud as I've ever heard it in a stadium. It was rocking. I don't know how Koji could catch his emotions."
Said Uehara, "I did hear it, but all my focus was on my rhythm."
The next two pitches Uehara threw were strikes -- go figure, 74 percent of his pitches in the regular season were strikes.
Uehara was one pitch away from the true perfect inning -- nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts. Only nine pitchers have accomplished the feat since 1980.
"Wil Myers fouled off a really tough 0-2 splitty to keep that from happening," Ross said.
The ninth pitch was a splitter. Myers swung. He barely made contact, fouling the pitch off. Myers grounded out two pitches later.
Uehara finished with 11 pitches, 11 strikes, for his first postseason save.
"I could throw down just about anything and he seems to execute the pitch," Ross said. "He throws that heater and paints it, then throws that split-finger that just disappears on hitters.
"When it leaves his hand, in that split second you have to make up your mind, it looks like a strike. It just disappears. That's why the good ones are so good, just that deception factor. He's on another level."
Including the regular season, Uehara has struck out 103 batters while walking nine in 75 1/3 innings. His ERA is 1.08.
Manager John Farrell is running out of words to describe him, but the Red Sox, who can close out the series Monday night at Tropicana Field (live on TBS at 6 p.m. ET), are feeling pretty safe about late-inning leads this postseason.
"He's been phenomenal," Farrell said. "He throws a 90-mph fastball; it looks like it's got the reaction of an upper-90s pitch. That split that he can do multiple things with -- throw for a strike, finish a hitter off -- and he thrives in moments like tonight.
"We've seen it time and time again, regardless if it's a three-run lead or a seven-run lead, when he's come in. It's one of the more comfortable innings when he's on the mound that we'll watch from our dugout."
Uehara is available to pitch two innings, if needed. He was on call in the eighth on Saturday. But Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa -- each aided by inning-ending double plays -- combined to throw 2 2/3 scoreless innings to build the bridge to Uehara.
Breslow has allowed just one run on 11 hits over his last 22 1/3 innings.
"I take a lot of pride in preparing myself, getting myself in good shape so that come August, September, this season in October, I'm still kind of trending up as opposed to fatiguing," he said.