BALTIMORE -- Koji blogs.
For much of his career in the United States, Koji Uehara operated in such obscurity that he felt compelled to serve as the foremost reporter on his own performances. Unlike countrymen like Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, Uehara arrived after his prime had seemingly passed, and so, there was no corresponding stream of daily reports on his every move, particularly once he moved from the rotation to a relief role.
In many respects, his standing was comparable to the self-description of former Red Sox setup man Hideki Okajima, who in early 2007 proclaimed himself a hero in the shadows. Unlike Okajima, who seemed to prefer a minimal following, Uehara -- a superstar for much of his career in Japan -- resented it.
And so, the blog.
If the Japanese publications would not see fit to chronicle the right-hander at each turn, Uehara would take it upon himself to do so. The first blog entry was posted on Dec. 4, 2008, at a time when Uehara was exploring the market for his services in Major League Baseball. He has posted more than 1,200 entries since, feeling it increasingly important to report on his career since he moved from the rotation to the bullpen with the Orioles for the 2010 season.
"The position that I pitch in as a reliever, it's not a glamor role. It doesn't get a lot of publicity. So I decided that I needed to take it into my own hands and let the fans know what I was doing," Uehara explained through translator C.J. Matsumoto. "Since I'm pitching as a reliever, I don't get my news out that often. I think [the blog] helps in that regard."
The blog also served other functions, Uehara explained. He thought that a proper archive of his performances would one day help him as a coach, and allow him to communicate with players about what he felt at specific, perhaps applicable, points of their careers.
Nonetheless, there is a slight edge in Uehara's commitment to the blog -- a sense that the absence of recognition for his largely dominant performance as a reliever in the States prior to this year was experienced with dismay.
"I feel that the seventh inning, eighth inning is a pretty important role, and I hope there will be more media coverage of it from now on," said Uehara. "I'm just a little bit disappointed that it took the fact that I became a closer to get more coverage, more spotlight, and the fact that I had a streak going on -- that it took that kind of thing to get more news coverage."
Uehara has now arrived at a place where he will not need to feel any distress about the amount of coverage he faces. The 38-year-old will stand very much in the spotlight going forward, as he represents arguably the Red Sox' most important player as the postseason looms.
The Red Sox have extraordinary depth in their lineup, a wealth of talented position players -- starters and reserves -- who can alter a game. Their postseason rotation depth -- with a former Cy Young winner in Jake Peavy, a 2012 All-Star -- can rival anyone's. But the bullpen features a shortage of reliable options, making Uehara a performer of massive significance as the team enters the playoffs.
The Red Sox have just one other pitcher in their bullpen who can offer anything close to a sense of certainty in the late innings. Craig Breslow tossed a scoreless inning on Sunday for his 27th scoreless appearance in his last 28 outings. Beyond him?
The ensemble of Junichi Tazawa, Franklin Morales, Brandon Workman, Ryan Dempster and perhaps Matt Thornton has been a case study in collective inconsistency in September. The Sox have little idea what they might expect once they get past Uehara and Breslow.
With that in mind, it was noteworthy to hear Sox manager John Farrell's response to an inquiry about the possibility of using Uehara for more than three outs at a time. The accidental closer has excelled in such situations -- in his nine regular-season appearances of more than three outs, he has permitted a run in just one (his first of the year; he put up nothing but zeros in his last eight multi-inning outings of the regular season), with a 0.63 ERA in outings of four or more outs.
“We’ve done it. We’re certainly willing to go more than a three-out save. Hell, they’re might be a six-out save at some point,” said Farrell. “Going forward, yeah, we’ve done it before. Hopefully we’re in positions with a lead in the eighth inning where we’ll turn to him again.”
Uehara, it seems, will be asked not only to close out the ninth but to shorten the bridge to get there. The Sox could hardly ask for a player whose regular season performance so strongly positioned him for such a role.
The right-hander concluded his 2013 regular season on Sunday -- in Camden Yards, where he quietly made his home as a player for his first two and a half years in the States -- with a scoreless eighth in which he gave up a hit.
He thus concluded the year with a 1.09 ERA (best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more innings) and a mind-blowing average of 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings -- the lowest WHIP in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50 innings, surpassing by a considerable margin the 0.61 standard set by Dennis Eckersley in 1989.
"When you're surprised that he gives up a baserunner, that means he's having a pretty good year," said Breslow. "Maybe my metrics are a little bit subjective, but when you can't remember the last time a guy's been on base, he's having a good year. He's been absolutely dominant, especially considering that coming into the season he was probably the third, fourth, fifth option to close.
"We're celebrating the retirement of the greatest closer to play this game," Breslow continued, alluding to Mariano Rivera, whose lowest ERA was 1.38 (in 2005) and whose lowest WHIP was 0.66 (in 2008), "and the run that Koji's been on, nobody can touch. "
A few other markers of Uehara's absurdly, historically great season:
-- He struck out 101 batters and walked nine. In the process, Uehara became the first person ever with more than 100 punchouts and fewer than 10 walks. It's worth noting that two of his nine walks were intentional.
-- Uehara did not walk a batter in his last 22 appearances, dating to Aug. 4.
-- In the final three months of the year, he allowed one earned run in 37 games spanning 40 1/3 innings, good for a 0.22 ERA, with 52 strikeouts and two walks during the stretch.
-- In save situations, he had a 0.72 ERA with 36 strikeouts and one walk in 25 innings, with a 0.72 ERA. Of his 21 saves, 19 have been perfect appearances. He led all big league relievers with 44 perfect games (no baserunners), and led American League relievers with 65 scoreless appearances.
-- He has struck out 30.2 percent of all batters he's faced in his career -- the ninth highest strikeout rate of all times with careers of at least 200 innings.
In short, he's been amazing. The Sox will need him to continue to be just that. After all, recent history suggests that the role of the closer has been immense in recent Red Sox postseason history.
In 2009, Jonathan Papelbon got shelled in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, blowing a save as the Sox were unceremoniously swept by the Angels in their last postseason appearance. That was a far cry from 2007, when Papelbon and Hideki Okajima transformed the late innings of the Sox' World Series run with their combined dominance. In 2004, Keith Foulke could wrestle David Ortiz for the title of most important contributor to that celebrated World Series team. He represented an about-face from the previous year, when Grady Little's distrust of his bullpen led to Pedro Martinez being left in too long and . . .
So the contributors at the end of the game have played a huge role in shaping the Sox' October performances. That being the case, the presence of Uehara is one that offers tremendous promise to the Sox, given what he's already accomplished and the possibility that he can be good enough to cover some of the team's other middle relief shortcomings.
And if the Sox manage to reach their sought-after postseason destination? Then might Uehara be willing to take a bow? Unlikely.
"I don't feel that I've accomplished that much in a reliever role," he said. "I'm never going to get satisfied unless I retire and look back."
That time has not yet arrived. For now, Uehara need only focus on a present in which he is finally going to occupy the position of prominence that has eluded him for much of his career in the States.