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Koji Uehara And The Power Of October Nights At Fenway

The Koji experience was electric.

World Series - St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox - Game Six Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

As someone who grew up in the 90s as an avid wrestling fan, entrance music has forever been an essential aspect of my life. There was always something special about those first few notes of your favorite wrestler’s entrance music and hearing the crowd’s reaction — good or bad, depending on whether they were a “face” or a “heel” during that given week. Did I put either Stone Cold Steve Austin’s or The Rock’s entrance music as the final track of all my mixtape CDs in high school? Of course, I did. Do I still occasionally work out to WWE: The Music, Volume 3? I can’t confirm or deny that.

Naturally, Edwin Diaz’s entrance music in Queens this summer was something I followed closely. “Narco” by Blasterjaxx & Timmy Trumpet will be stuck in your head for days after watching a home Mets win and the split-screen production effort from the SNY broadcast was commendable as the season progressed.

Hat tip to Mr. and Mrs. Met for their outstanding trumpet work, although it would be nice to see a few more fans enjoying the moment rather than recording Diaz’s entrance from the back wall of the bleachers. The Mets even flew in Mr. Trumpet himself to sound ‘em live for a Diaz save in late August. I’m looking forward to seeing “Narco” in a playoff atmosphere starting this weekend, although I don’t have my hopes up that the national broadcasts will capture it correctly. Diaz’s entrance has been compared to Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and locally, Jonathan Papelbon using “Shipping Up To Boston” during the 2007 title run. I would prefer to look back on the entrance of the closer from a different championship. A closer who came out of nowhere to unleash the most dominant run in Red Sox history: Koji Uehara.

Before evaluating the entrance itself, it’s worth revisiting the level to which Uehara dominated in 2013, and beyond. Uehara started the season third in line for saves, behind the soon-to-be-injured duo of Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, and somehow finished the season 7th in the Cy Young award voting. In 74 1/3 innings, Uehara struck out 101 batters while walking only nine, with an ERA of 1.09 and a WHIP of 0.57. He recorded 21 saves after claiming the closer’s role during the final week of June. Later that season, he was voted the MVP of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers and was on the mound for the strikeout that ended the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

However, it is the following ten-month stretch, over two seasons (and a postseason) that will forever stick out to me:

Koji Uehara July ‘13 - Apr. ‘14

7/9 - 9/29/13 33 37 10 1 1 1 48 16/16 0.24 .085
Postseason (10/5-10/30) 13 13.2 7 1 1 0 16 7/7 0.66 .152
4/2 - 4/23/14 8 8 5 0 0 1 14 4/4 0.00 .167
Total 54 58.2 22 2 2 2 78 27/27 0.31
Koji Uehara July ‘13 - Apr. ‘14

For whatever reason, combining regular season and playoff stats together makes people uneasy, even though you might argue that the inclusion of playoff statistics makes something like this even more impressive. When multiple regular seasons are included it gets even messier, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dominant stretch from a relief pitcher in the entire history of baseball. The 59(ish) innings are a good marker because it is Orel Hershiser’s 59-inning scoreless streak in 1988 by which most of these stretches are judged. Hershiser did pitch in an era where the strikeout was not as ubiquitous, but Uehara barely cracked 90 mph with his fastball. He was not pumping triple digits on the radar gun and yet still had a 12.0 K/9 over that stretch, which more than doubled the 5.8 K/9 for Hershiser during his 59 innings. Uehara did have the audacity to give up two runs.

Any semi-intelligent baseball fan will tell you that it’s more difficult to throw 59 dominant innings as a starter. Each time through the order, the batter’s advantage increases. Nonetheless, the side-by-side of Hershiser and Uehara is fascinating.

Hershiser ‘88 vs. Uehara ‘13-’14

Hershiser 59 31 0 0 10 38 5.8 0.00
Uehara 58.2 22 2 2 2 78 12.0 0.31
Hershiser ‘88 vs. Uehara ‘13-’14

Let’s talk about the entrance though. “Sandstorm” by Darude was released in 1999 in Finland, officially labeled as part of the “trance” genre, which is a sub-genre of techno. Even if you didn’t know the song’s name, it’s a recognizable beat for many. The Koji Uehara entrance videos on YouTube are mostly grainy cell phone footage, but there is one upload that stands out. Google Translate tells me the video title is Japanese for “Red Sox Koji Uehara entrance is too cool”, which seems fair. Joe Buck’s voice takes us into, and out of, commercial letting us know that “Uehara, with the Red Sox trying to wrap up the pennant” against the Tigers in Game Six of the ALCS. In between, there is no commercial break on the broadcast with the entrance playing all the way through.

38,823 attendees all clapping in unison and I didn’t see any cell phones. The roar from the crowd when the beat ends, sounding like they are at a concert. All the while, Jim Leyland looks on helplessly, longing for a lung dart. Koji probably wouldn’t have fit in with the 90’s WWE roster, but he could shut down a big game in a matter of seconds. If you search elsewhere for the full video of Game 6, or really any Red Sox win that postseason, Uehara’s stuff is such a joy to watch. He worked fast, he threw strikes, and you get the feeling that every one of these batters could be told that the splitter was coming and they still wouldn’t have been able to hit it.

I miss the Red Sox having a shutdown closer; Keith Foulke in 2004, Jonathan Papelbon in 2007, Koji Uehara in 2013, Craig Kimbrel (and, for an inning, Chris Sale) in 2018. I don’t think that’s a coincidence and am demanding it is addressed by Thanksgiving of this year. More than anything, that scene reminds me that I’m going to miss October baseball at Fenway this postseason. There’s nothing like it.