We know about the beards and the Mike Napoli home runs and David Ortiz hitting that Big Papi-sized grand slam. But what's proven to be one of the more unsung keys for the Boston Red Sox — as unsung as something can be in the postseason, anyway — is their bullpen.
Closer Koji Uehara has been rightfully praised. He notched that five-out save in Game 5, improving an ALCS run that's seen him carry a 0.00 ERA against the Detroit Tigers. He's pitched five innings in four games, giving up three hits and striking out seven.
Just ask Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia how good the Boston 'pen has been. He told the New York Daily News:
“These games have been so tight, so close and so competitive,” Saltalamacchia said. “Games like those always come down to how a bullpen pitches. Our guys have been outstanding. (Closer) Koji (Uehara) has been outstanding.”
Uehara, 38, is not exactly Craig Kimbrel either. He took over the closer role midseason after the Red Sox relievers kept dropping with injuries. He had a 0.28 ERA and 13 saves in the second half of the season. It's been a shining few months for Uehara, who was a serviceable but not spectacular in a five-year MLB career in which he's pitched for the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles before coming to Boston this season.
It's not just the closer, though. The Boston bullpen ERA, 0.96, is the lowest of any postseason team that made it past the wild card round. By comparison, Detroit's bullpen ERA is 3.97. The only postseason team with a worse bullpen ERA is the Atlanta Braves.
In this ALCS, Boston relievers have given up only one run. In a series that's featured four one-run games — three of which were Boston wins — you can see why this is important.
Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa have been the team's go-to relievers before Uehara comes in. In the entire postseason, the three of them have pitched 18 2/3 innings and given up two runs.
As the Red Sox head to Game 6 on Saturday night, looking to close out the Tigers and move on to the World Series, there's a good chance the bullpen will once again factor in the game. If the Red Sox crew can get it done, you could make a good case for them as Boston's collective postseason MVP thus far.
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