BOSTON – Koji Uehara wasn’t Boston’s first choice to be its closer this season.
Or the second.
The 38-year-old right-hander got the job after neither Joel Hanrahan nor Andrew Bailey lasted. Uehara was setting up for them before he inherited the ninth-inning role in late June, and by October he was voted most valuable player of the AL Championship Series.
“All I can say is that I’m extremely, extremely happy right now,” Uehara said after the Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 5-2 in Game 6 of the ALCS on Saturday night to advance to the World Series against St. Louis.
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Uehara pitched a scoreless ninth in the clincher, giving him three saves and a victory in the ALCS. After converting 21 of 24 save opportunities in the regular season with a 1.09 earned-run average, he is five of five while allowing one run in nine innings in the playoffs.
Since giving up a game-ending homer to Tampa Bay’s Jose Lobaton in Game 3 of the ALDS, Uehara has allowed zero runs, four hits and no walks in 71
3 innings. He pitched a perfect ninth in the Game 2 victory over the Tigers, got four outs for the save in the third game, retired five in a row in Game 5 and closed out the ALCS with another scoreless inning.
“We knew he was going to be a key contributor toward the back end of the bullpen,” manager John Farrell said last week. “His track record indicates that. … And I keep going back to the fact that he’s not doing something this year that is so out of the norm for him. He’s been a very successful pitcher, whether it’s been in Japan or here. But the fact he’s the closer here, he’s gained the notoriety that he deserves.”
• St. Louis cleanup hitter Allen Craig, out since Sept. 4 with a sprained left foot, said he has recovered and is ready to be put on the World Series roster.
• Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder hit .225 (9 for 40) with no homers or RBI in 11 playoff games. Asked whether it was tough knowing the Tigers wouldn’t be in a Game 7 against Boston, Fielder said, “It’s not really tough, man. For me, it’s over. I got kids I gotta take care of, I got things to take care of. For me, it’s over, bro.”
Told some fans might not understand how he could get over the ALCS setback so quickly, Fielder said, “Because they don’t play.”
As for other people’s expectations, he said, “If you try to live up to other people’s expectations, you’re not going to be a very happy person.”