Leave it to Craig Breslow -- the guy from Yale -- to simplify what most are identifying as the most complex situation facing the Red Sox heading into their postseason existence.
"Everybody talks about how we're going to bridge, but we'll find out how important it is on Friday because some way we'll find a way to do it and it might not be any way we've talked about to this point," the lefty reliever said.
What Breslow was referencing, of course, is the talk of the town when it comes to perhaps the biggest roadblock for these Red Sox -- finding a way to get to closer Koji Uehara.
It has been well-documented how Uehara has offered the most comforting game-ending relief these Red Sox have seen in years. Finishing off the season by allowing just one run over his last 37 innings will do that.
He isn't the issue.
Perhaps the the biggest challenge facing Red Sox manager John Farrell and his staff is uncovering some sort of effective bridge that can seamlessly traverse from the starting pitcher to the ninth inning.
"Absolutely," said Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves when asked if he believed the Red Sox had the bullpen pieces necessary to get the job done. "We have a lot of guys with tremendous ability. We have long guys. We have short guys. We have guys with different styles. The most important thing here is the front-line guys. They're still in charge of seven or eight innings, and we'll piece it together after that."
And there is a way these Red Sox can find a way to close out games once the starter calls it quits. It's just that the answer might not the kind of conventional solution fans have become accustomed to. It will not be as simple as the last time the Sox hit the playoffs, when the likes of Billy Wagner, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon put down the pavement after a five- or six-inning outing.
The first thing that should be realized is that because of Uehara's reliability, and pitch efficiency, you are going to see the closer pitch more innings than perhaps any Red Sox reliever in postseason history.
Derek Lowe owns the team record for most innings turned in by a Red Sox reliever in the postseason, finishing the 1999 run with 14 2/3. For a closer, it was Keith Foulke, who completed the '04 World Series run with 14 innings, which included a three-game stretch in which he pitched back-to-back-to-back days in the American League Championship Series (a total of five innings and 100 pitches).
And going two innings won't be completely foreign for Uehara, who has totaled such a workload three times this season (never eclipsing more than 21 pitches). But the difference this time around there won't be time to rest after such an outing.
The first time he threw two innings, June 10, his subsequent outings -- two and three days later -- were just one-third of an inning each. The next occasion, July 14, came immediately before the All-Star break. And the most recent two-inning outing, July 31, led to Uehara not pitching again for four more days.
It won't be any sort of revolutionary notion to extend the Red Sox closer come playoff time. Since 2000, there have been 17,053 saves, with 2,194 totaling four out or more (12.9 percent). In the postseason over that span, 63 of the 199 saves have been more than of the three-out variety, a 31.7 percentage and 246.1 percent increase over the regular season.
The security blanket when it comes to Uehara is his unworldly pitch efficiency. During his run since early July, he has totaled more than 20 pitches on just four occasions, maxing out at 26.
A good comparison might be Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who, like Uehara, didn't take up closing duties until midway throughout he season. The big righty appeared in 75 games (two more than the Red Sox game-ender), getting 32 save opportunities (eight more than Uehara). The highly effective Jansen ended up throwing 1,245 pitches, compared to the Sox closer's 1,049.
Three times since 2000, Mariano Rivera totaled 16 postseason innings. (Tug McGraw and Francisco Rodriguez hold the major league high for a reliever with 18 2/3 playoff frames in a single season.) But the key for Rivera was what helps make it work for Uehara, never eclipsing 14 pitches per inning for two of the three seasons. (In '09 the Yankees simply rode the hot hand, pushing Rivera upward of 33 pitches in three games.)
Another reason the Red Sox won't hesitate to ride Uehara has been a somewhat surprising durability. Fifteen times he has pitched on back-to-back days, not allowing an extra-base hit or earned runs in any of those appearances, totaling just six hits in 14 innings.
But while Uehara's dependability answers part of the problem, it won't be the complete answer to life after each starter's outing.
That's where a potential unorthodox bullpen strategy might come into play.
Farrell chose to keep 11 pitchers for the American League Division Series, one more than what the Red Sox have typically carried in such best-of-five series. Part of the reason is due to the Sox' plan to get by through matchups rather than defined roles.
While the Red Sox would love to revert back to locking in certain pitchers for certain innings (remember Opening Day?), that is a luxury they might not have this time around. Breslow's effectiveness would suggest the closest thing to an eighth-inning man Farrell's club might possess, but the lefty might also be needed in previous innings. (Note: Breslow has suggested shorter outings tend result in better production from him.)
Junichi Tazawa had served in the no-questions-asked role of set-up man before hitting a second-half rut. In the final two months, batters hit .292 against his bread-and-butter pitch, the fastball, managing a .500 clip in the righty's final four outings.
But, according to Nieves, the six days of rest might just be the tonic needed for a Tazawa resurgence.
"Any rest for Tazawa after the workload he had last year is a plus," the Sox pitching coach said. "Even today in the bullpen, you can tell the difference the way the ball is coming out of his hand. You can tell he's well rested."
But, in the end, when determining which pitcher will lead into Uehara, it might be determined more by the hitter than anything else. For instance, as well as Franklin Morales has been throwing, righties are carrying an OPS of almost 400 points higher than lefties. Knowing Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria is 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against Tazawa could lead to a key decision. And Felix Doubront's effectiveness against James Loney (2-for-11) might also be a consideration.
Then there is the notion that Breslow throws out. "You will," he said, "have some guys who will emerge."
It happened with Derek Lowe in '04, when a regular season in which he totaled a 5.42 ERA was quickly forgotten after he allowed just four runs in 19 1/3 postseason innings.
Names to consider in this respect are the converted starters, Doubront and Ryan Dempster.
The good thing about Doubront is he can slow the game down because he can throw soft, he can throw hard, he can cut it, four-seam fastball, two-seam fasatball. The availability of having him provide depth if you have extra innings -- he can go six or seven innings -- also is important.
One thing to keep in mind regarding the left-hander: Doubront has allowed just one home run to a lefty all season.
"We'll have matchups, and he can help contain those guys," Nieves said of Doubront. "He can keep the ball inside the ballpark and people don't run on him. His biggest challenge is attacking the strike zone like he can."
And while Dempster has been more effective against left-handed hitting this season, the Red Sox view his ability to get a key strikeout against a righty (a quality lacking among Sox set-up men) and a legitimate weapon.
"Whatever [Farrell] asks me to do," said Dempster, who made three relief outings -- along with an appearance in Wednesday's simulated game -- at the end of the regular season. "If he asks me to come in and face one guy, or asks me to face 10 guys, I'm going to be ready to do whatever. I feel confident in my ability to get out righties or lefties."
There are no easy answers, just some breath-holding and educated guesses.
As Breslow said, "A fighter's not a fighter until he gets punched in the face for the first time."
Now we'll see how these relievers can take a postseason punch.