Koji Uehara allowed a walk in the ninth inning of Saturday's contest against the Orioles. The Red Sox closer followed that up by striking out the next three batters in order, but it was too late: the damage was done, and the walk-less streak over. It had been months and months since the last Uehara free pass, and not just because we're only in the first month of the 2014 season following the off-season. Uehara hadn't allowed a walk since August 3, 2013, and that includes the postseason.
Back on August 3, Uehara walked the first batter he faced, the Diamondbacks' Martin Prado. He then induced a ground out and a double play to end the inning and the game, kicking off what was to become a ridiculous stretch where walks began to seem impossible. In between that Prado walk and the one issued to to Orioles' backstop Matt Wieters this past Saturday, Uehara logged 44-1/3 innings over 36 games -- that's most of a full season of relief sans walk.
In that time, Uehara posted a 0.41 ERA, allowing just two runs to score. He gave up seven extra-base hits total, one of them a solo home run, and allowed only one inherited runner out of nine to score. Not a single baserunner stole a base on Koji in this stretch, likely owing to how quickly he worked as well as how rare baserunners were in his appearances to begin with. Of the 150 batters he faced in these 44-plus innings, Uehara struck out 55 of them -- 37 percent, or over 11 per nine innings -- and obviously walked zero. If you want to include Saturday's appearance in full in the calculations, Uehara's strikeout-to-walk ratio since August 3 of last year is 58-to-1, without an intentional walk or a hit batsmen in the stretch just to top it all off.
Uehara averaged just under 13 pitches per inning over this stretch, and just under 16 per outing. He threw strikes at an absurd rate, with 79 percent pitches coming as strikes to finish off 2013, 77 percent strikes in the playoffs, and 72 percent strikes to begin this new year. About 20 percent of those strikes were swinging, too, owing to Koji's filthy splitter.
It's one of the longest walk-less stretches for a reliever in recent memory as well. The lengthiest in the last five years was also Koji Uehara's doing, as he went 37-1/3 frames without a free pass to close out 2010 and begin 2011. Before that, you have to go back to John Smoltz in 2003-2004, who racked up 38-1/3 regular season innings as well as three more in the postseason without giving up a walk. In the last 35 years, the Athletics' Dennis Eckersley is the only pitcher who threw more innings without a walk than Uehara, beginning a 50-inning stretch in mid-August of 1989 that didn't conclude until mid-June of 1990. In between, he also tossed 7-1/3 walk-less playoff frames. Only two relievers ever slot in between Uehara's 2013-2014 streak and Dennis Eckersley's: Tom Morgan's 52-1/3 walk-less innings back in 1957-1958 and Mark Eichorn's 45 frames in 1990-1991.
None of these pitchers, including past-Koji, managed to dominate like Uehara did during his 44-1/3 innings, though. Eckersley's 1.44 ERA is a full run loftier than what Koji managed, and the differences between the offenses of the eras isn't as far as you might think now that we're in a pitcher-dominant time once more. Smoltz's 2.11 mark is highly impressive given it came in 2003-2004, but that was after the serious offensive explosion of the late-90s and early aughts, so claiming it's better than Uehara's 0.41 mark isn't possible. There have been lower ERA, and longer streaks, but never have the two matched up as they did for Uehara from August of last year through this past weekend. We just witnessed something historically special from Koji. If we're lucky, Saturday's three strikeouts were just the start of another go at history.
Thanks to Baseball-Reference's Play Index and Game Logs for essentially everything you just read.