Et tu, Koji? Going into last Friday’s contest with Seattle, Uehara had been one of the few bright spots in the dismal 2014 season. In 57 appearences, he had a 5-3 mark and 1.53 ERA, allowing 40 hits in 58 2/3 innings. His 26 saves and only 7 walks and 72 K’s helped enable the Sox to have a 44-0 team record when leading after 8 innings (which, of course, has been pretty rare).
Uehara was called upon to save a 3-0 game, which gave the team a chance to break a 5-game losing streak and pin a rare defeat on King Felix Hernandez. Normally Koji, who relies on ball movement rather than speed, disposes of the opposition in 15 pitches or less. But trouble appeared almost immediately. He missed on 3 of 4 tosses to Kyle Seagar before the Mariners’ third baseman popped one up for the first out. Logan Morrison followed with a single to left. When Uehara fanned Mike Zunino, it appeared he would close it out as usual. But after getting a ball and two strikes on Endy Chavez, a 36-year-old outfielder with his seventh major league team, something unusual happened. As Fenway fans rose in anticipation, Chavez began fouling off pitches. I didn’t keep count, but there must have been at least six foul balls.
In the past two seasons, Uehara would have disposed of Chavez easily. But the batter wore him down to a point where he began missing and eventually gave up a walk. Now things unraveled quickly. A Chris Denofria hit loaded the bases, and before John Farrell could remove the closer, an Austin Jackson double and a blooper by Dustin Ackley that neither Brock Holt or Johannes Cespedes could reach put the winning runs across. Uehara, who has now had four consecutive bad outings, might just be worn out. But at age 39, he may be at the end of his magical two-year run. Edward Mujica is probably not a capable replacement, so the Sox may have a dilemma over the winter about whether to re-sign Koji or look elsewhere.
The loss was a tough one for Boston fans to take, at a time when wins are so infrequent.