10/22/2013 6:44 P.M. ET
Rosenthal, Uehara make closing a breeze
Duo wasn't first choice for Fall Classic clubs to close, but they've excelled
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
BOSTON -- The World Series features shutdown closers Trevor Rosenthal of the Cardinals and Koji Uehara of the Red Sox -- neither of whom was the closer on Opening Day.
Neither of whom was the second choice, either.
"I know better than to make blanket statements about closers," said Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow, the only player in this World Series with an Ivy League diploma. "What it says is that there are two incredibly talented guys pitching at the end of games for both teams. It doesn't mean that both of these guys wouldn't have worked their way to the back of the bullpen barring any other circumstances. We're obviously fortunate to have the guy we have, and we wouldn't trade him for anybody."
That guy is Uehara, who is sensational mostly because of one sensational pitch, a disappearing split-fingered fastball that he threw nearly 50 percent of the time in the regular season. He became Boston's choice to close after injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, and responded by logging a 0.41 ERA, a .097 opponents' average and an eye-popping ratio of 59 strikeouts to two walks over his final 41 regular-season appearances.
This postseason, Uehara has a win, five saves, 13 strikeouts, zero walks and one American League Championship Series MVP trophy.
Then there is 23-year-old Rosenthal, 15 years Uehara's junior. Rosenthal is also sensational mostly because of one sensational pitch, a power fastball that averaged 97.3 mph during the regular season and regularly touches triple digits. He became St. Louis' choice to close after Jason Motte needed Tommy John surgery and Edward Mujica faltered in August, and responded with five scoreless appearances to end his first full regular season with a 2.63 ERA and 108 strikeouts in only 75 1/3 innings.
This postseason, Rosenthal has yet to allow a run, with three saves and nine strikeouts in seven innings.
There is mutual respect between the two.
"He's just completely a different style of pitcher," Uehara said through a translator. "He throws 100 mph, a power pitcher. You can't really compare him to myself."
"I know he's been amazing this year," Rosenthal said of Uehara, "and watching a few times, I know he knows how to pitch. He's got a sneaky fastball. He might not throw it as hard, but it seems to get on the hitters and give them trouble. He's fun to watch. He brings a lot of enthusiasm to the game."
That includes postgame. Traditionally, David Ortiz picks Uehara off the ground and slings him over his shoulder after a save.
Rosenthal's celebrations are much more low-key.
"I definitely have a ton of emotion," Rosenthal said. "Maybe it's displayed in different ways. I'm still trying to figure it out."
You cannot blame him for needing some time. A 21st-round pick of the Cardinals in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Rosenthal was being groomed as a starting pitcher before the big league club required relief help last year. He scattered two hits and two walks in seven scoreless appearances during the 2012 postseason, working as a setup man to Motte.
Still, Rosenthal never even considered closing.
"I dreamed about playing in the big leagues, but I always dreamed about being a starter, pitching Game 7 of the World Series and throwing all nine innings," Rosenthal said. "At this point, it's a different thing than I expected, but it's definitely awesome."
The ninth inning is similarly unfamiliar to Uehara, who came to the U.S. as an Orioles starter in 2009, logged 13 saves in '10, but then mostly worked middle relief for the Orioles and Rangers through the end of last season. The Red Sox signed Uehara for $4.25 million and added him to a stable of right-handed relievers, not exactly an afterthought, but also not exactly a closer-in-waiting.
When they assumed ninth-inning duties, both Uehara and Rosenthal received similar advice.
"Just keep doing what you're doing," Motte said he told Rosenthal.
Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves said the same to Uehara, and laughs whenever someone suggests that Uehara's remarkable success is cause for surprise.
"Listen, if you were with us in [Spring Training], I remember him pitching in four games in a week and he would throw a combined 25 pitches," Nieves said. "I would say, 'Wait, wait, wait. You have to go in the bullpen one day and throw about 35 pitches, just to get endurance in your arm.' He's been doing this since February, guys."
Uehara is making it look easy. So is Rosenthal.
They assure you, it is not.
"It is very hard," Uehara said.
Game 1 of the World Series is Wednesday at Fenway Park (7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8:07 first pitch on FOX).