It only seemed fitting in a season filled disappointments and underperformances that the Red Sox would squander a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning against the Mariners.
What no one really expected was the culprit behind the collapse.
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara entered the ninth as perhaps the closest thing that Boston has had to a sure bet this year, compiling a 1.53 ERA and .080 WHIP with 26 saves on the season.
Uehara seemed to be in prime position to put Seattle away, forcing Endy Chavez into an 1-2 count with two outs and Logan Morrison on first. Chavez would eventually battle back and work the walk to put runners on first and second.
Pinch hitter Chris Denorfia would then single on a soft line drive to right field to load the bases for Austin Jackson, who doubled on a sharp line drive to left that drove in two, cutting Boston’s lead to just one run. Seattle quickly grabbed their first lead of the night in the next at-bat, as Dustin Ackley forced a bloop single into left field between shortstop Brock Holt and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, driving in two more runs to give the Mariners a 4-3 lead.
Robinson Cano would tack on an additional run with an RBI single before Red Sox manager John Farrell emerged from the dugout to take the ball away from Uehara - but the damage was already irrevocably done. Uehara was charged with five hits and five earned runs in just 2/3 of an inning as the Red Sox fell to the Mariners, 5-3.
“To me, the key at-bat in the ninth inning was the Chavez walk,” Farrell said after the game. “We’ve got two outs, a man at first base and a 1-2 count, and he battles his way back into the count and works out a walk and then the 0-2 pitch to Denorfia, he pushes a base hit to right field, 0-2 pitch to Jackson for the double and unfortunately, Ackley finds kind of the Bermuda Triangle out there to drive in the two go-ahead runs. Maybe a lack of finish to Koji’s splitter was the difference tonight.”
Friday night made for one of Uehara’s worst outings in his MLB career. It was the most runs that the 39-year-old has allowed in an outing since surrendering six runs with the Orioles during a start against the Rays on May 5, 2009.
Uehara, who had only given up more than one earned run four times in 130 career appearances with Boston, has now been tagged for seven earned runs in his last 2 2/3 innings of work.
Despite what the box score signaled after the game, Holt maintained that he didn’t believe the Sox closer really labored too much in his outing.
“I really didn’t think he struggled a whole lot,” Holt said. “He was making pitches. … They were blooping balls in here and there, Austin Jackson hit a ball off the wall. Other than that … they were just finding holes. It’s something that we haven’t been able to do and it seems like the other teams have.”
Despite the fact that Uehara has now allowed an earned run in three straight outings, Farrell stated after the game that he doesn’t feel like the right-hander will be shut down at some point this season due to fatigue issues or any other matters.
“His last three appearances have had two days off following each one,” Farrell said. “We recognize that over the course of two years, there’s been a high number of appearances. His work load has been managed of late and we’ll continue to try to do that.”
While the clues seem to point to a potential decline for one of Boston’s sturdiest players, Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly expressed his confidence in Uehara’s ability to bounce back from Friday’s demoralizing defeat.
“Usually, he’s automatic, and he just had a tough night tonight. … He’s so good,” Kelly said. “He’ll be fine. He’ll go out there and probably rattle off another 15 saves in a row and be back to normal.”