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Perfect in practice (Updated)

Posted by David Sabino  September 11, 2013 02:00 PM

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Koji.jpgFirst Koji Uehara emerged as the Red Sox closer and now he's become the most reliable pitcher in the game.

After starting the ninth inning on August 17 at Fenway Park by striking out New York’s Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nuñez swinging, Koji Uehara allowed a double down the right field line on an 0-1 count to Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay. On the next pitch Uehara induced Chris Stewart to pop out to Will Middlebrooks at third to close out a 6-1 Red Sox win.

Amazingly, that was the last time a batter reached against Boston’s veteran closer, a span of 34 straight batters, or seven more outs than pitching a nine-inning perfect game. He now holds the Red Sox record, which was previously 32 straight in 1952 by Ellis Kinder. The alltime major league record for consecutive batters retired is 45 by Chicago White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle but his came in consecutive starts. As did the former mark of 41 straight batters retired set by San Francisco’s Jim Barr in 1972. That was matched by the man whose streak Uehara’s should be compared to, former Sox reliever Bobby Jenks, who as the White Sox closer also set down 41 straight hitters during the summer of 2007 over a span of 13 appearances.

Uehara has been the savior of what was not long ago the Red Sox Achilles' heel: the ninth inning. Instead of being John Farrell's biggest concern, finishing games has become a foregone conclusion, deftly handled with near-surgical precision. Uehara has escaped each of his last 10 outings—seven for one inning, and three for an inning and a third—completely unscathed, resulting in seven saves, a drop in ERA from 1.29 to 1.08, a drop in opponents batting average from .149 to .128 and last night's win as a result of Mike Carp's 10th inning grand slam. It’s also the second time in the past two seasons that he’s made at least nine consecutive perfect appearances, something that you’d think wasn’t all that rare in an age where situational relievers and lefty-lefty matchups is so common, but a streak that long is not common at all. Tops on the list is Sergio Romo who was perfect in 14 straight 2011 appearances, however those came before he became the Giants closer. In fact in baseball history, only four closers—Jenks, Uehara and John Wetteland of the 1995 Yankees and Jeff Lahti of the 1985 Cardinals— have had as long a streak as nine perfect appearances.

These are the longest streaks of perfect appearances by a closer:

  • Bobby Jenks, 2007 White Sox, 13 appearances, 13 innings, 8 saves
  • Koji Uehara, 2013 Red Sox, 10 appearances, 11 innings, 7 saves, 1 win
  • John Wetteland, 1995 Yankees, 9 appearances, 9 innings, 6 saves
  • Jeff Lahti, 1985 Cardinals, 9 appearances, 8⅓ innings, 5 saves
Longest by pitchers overall:
  • Sergio Romo, 2011, 14 appearances, 10 innings, 1 save
  • Bobby Jenks, 2007 White Sox, 13 appearances, 13 innings, 8 saves, 1 win
  • Tim Byrdak, 2012, Mets, 12 appearances, 4 innings, 2 wins
  • Joe Thatcher, 2010, Padres, 12 appearances, 6⅓ innings
  • Paul Assenmacher, 1993, Yankees, 10 appearances, 7⅓ innings, 2 wins
  • Koji Uehara, 2013, 10 appearances, 11 innings, 7 saves, 1 win

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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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