CLEVELAND — Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa were two of the last Red Sox players to leave the clubhouse on Wednesday night after a 6-3 victory against the Indians.
They sat at a table sharing dinner with their interpreter, C.J. Matsumoto. Tazawa pitched two innings, Uehara one, and Matsumoto had a busy night helping the two pitchers conduct postgame interviews.
Because they are from Japan and are pitchers, it’s easy to assume Uehara and Tazawa must be close friends.
They are actually not. The 38-year-old Uehera has been pitching professionally for 15 years now and is a family man. His son, Kazuma, accompanies him to the park on occasion.
Tazawa, who is 26, has a far different background. He successfully challenged the system, telling Japanese teams not to draft him so he could sign with the Red Sox in 2008. He made his major league debut a year later.
Their personalities are different, too. Uehara is one of the funniest players on the team, using piecemeal English to crack jokes. He rushes to the dugout after successful outings, eager to celebrate with teammates.
“A fun guy to be around,” manager John Farrell said.
Tazawa is quiet and rarely draws attention for anything beyond what he does on the mound.
Where Tazawa and Uehara are similar is in what they have meant to the Sox this season.
Tazawa entered the game in the sixth inning on Wednesday with a runner on second and no outs.
The Indians had just scored three runs off a tiring Alfredo Aceves on a pair of long home runs by Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi.
The Sox were up, 5-3, but the game was on the line. Farrell wanted to get six innings out Aceves after Felix Doubront lasted only five innings on Tuesday and it was a miscalculation.
Tazawa needed 10 pitches to end the threat, getting three quick outs. He then struck out the side in the seventh. Uehara started the eighth inning and struck out two more. That made it an easy save for Andrew Bailey in the ninth.
By the time the game was over, Sox relievers had retired all 12 batters they faced, eight by strikeout.
“The two innings by Taz were probably the difference in tonight’s ballgame,” Farrell said.
The Red Sox have won five straight. At 10-4, they are six games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season.
Uehara has appeared in seven games and been nearly perfect, giving up one hit and an intentional walk over 6⅓ scoreless innings. He has gone 21 games without giving up a run dating back to last Sept. 1 when he was with the Rangers.
Tazawa has pitched seven times and allowed one run over eight innings. He has struck out eight.
“I’m prepared to come into any kind of situation. I’m willing to do that,” Tazawa said.
Since the start of last season, Tazawa has a 1.39 ERA in 44 appearances while averaging 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He has been a new pitcher since coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery.
“He has definitely showed what he’s made of,” Uehara said.
Thanks to the work of the bullpen, Aceves continued an impressive stretch that has seen Red Sox starters yet to allow more than three earned runs in a game. It’s the longest streak to start the season since the 1990 Brewers also went 14 games.
“Our pitching has been unbelievable,” Dustin Pedroia said.
Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava each had two hits and two RBIs for the Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino combined for six hits and four runs from atop the lineup.
The Sox had 15 hits with first-time starter Mike Carp going 3 for 3 with two doubles and a triple. He drove in one run.
Indians starter Justin Masterson came into the game not having allowed a run in 19⅓ innings. That ended in four batters.
Ellsbury led off with a single to left field. Masterson then hit Victorino in the foot with a slider before Pedroia singled to right field to load the bases.
Napoli grounded a single into right field to score two. Nava’s single to left field made it 3-0.
Stephen Drew had a two-out walk in the fifth inning. Carp then drove a fastball to center field for his first triple since 2011.
Masterson (3-1) lasted only five innings and 101 pitches. He allowed four runs on 11 hits.
“I thought we had an excellent approach against Masterson, who came into this ballgame throwing extremely well,” Farrell said. “We stayed inside the baseball, a number of base hits the other way.”
As the Red Sox piled up hits, Aceves handled the Indians with relative ease through the first four innings, putting only three runners on base.
Cleveland loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning when Lonnie Chisenhall singled, Drew Stubbs doubled, and Michael Brantley drew a walk.Continued...