Thursday afternoon in Detroit, the Tigers never had to use their closer. Which was probably good for them, since they don't have a closer. They didn't have to use their closer because they trailed heading into the ninth, and in fact they trailed until Jhonny Peralta hit a two-run walkoff homer against Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey ... who's now given up home runs in four of his last five outings, and probably isn't the closer any more.
If Bailey's out, though, who's in?
Here are the Red Sox' five key relief pitchers, in order of strikeout-to-walk ratio:
13! Junichi Tazawa
5.9 Koji Uehara
3.1 Andrew Miller
3.0 Andrew Bailey
1.3 Clayton Mortensen
I think it's safe to dismiss Mortensen from our list of candidates, and Bailey's dismissed himself with all those gopher balls. The Red Sox do have other relievers, of course, on the 25-man roster and otherwise. But not a single one of them has more than two strikeouts for every walk, and the leader in that category is situational lefty Craig Breslow.
Which leaves three guys -- Tazawa, Uehara, and Miller -- who have combined for exactly 16 major-league saves: 15 for Uehara, 1 for Tazawa, and 0 for Miller. Considering that Miller's never saved a game and he's left-handed -- while pitching brilliantly against righty hitters this season -- I'm guessing we can cross him off the list, too.
Question: Is this the first time in history that a manager's chosen between two Japanese pitchers for his closer?
Answer: Alas, no. In 2003, Kazuhiro Sasaki permanently lost his job after three seasons as the Mariners' closer. But he did save 10 games before going on the Disabled List. And within a few weeks, most of the saves started going to Shigetoshi Hasegawa.
So this situation isn't precisely unprecedented. Or maybe it is; maybe this situation has general precedent. But I doubt if a manager has basically searched for a new closer, with both viable choices hailing from the other side of the Pacific. Which is neither here nor there, really; just an indication that things have changed since I was a kid.
So who gets the job? Tazawa's numbers over these last couple of seasons are frighteningly good. He's got a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and given up five homers in 76 innings. Uehara's strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly as brilliant, but he's given up eight homers in 65 innings.
Is that a meaningful difference? No, probably not. My guess is they'll go with Uehara, because he performed well during a brief stint as the Orioles closer three years ago. But I think both are capable of doing well, unless you're skeptical because the Red Sox have waited this long to try someone besides Bailey and Joel Hanrahan. Do the Red Sox know something (important) that we don't? Or have they simply fallen under the spell, as so many clubs have before them, of the Proven Closer™?
It seems that we're about to find out.
P.S. Relievers are funny, aren't they? The Red Sox are paying Hanrahan $7 million this season. He's been a complete bust. They're paying Bailey $4 million and they traded Josh Reddick (!) to get him. Meanwhile, they signed Uehara for only $4 million, and Tazawa's salary remains shy of $1 million. The latter, of course, was signed out of Japan as an amateur. It took a few years, but that sure looks like brilliant scouting now.
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