BOSTON -- It was hardly a high-leverage spot, with the Red Sox cruising to a win and leading by five runs with six outs to go.
Still, Koji Uehara carved through the New York Yankee lineup with ease Friday night, needing just 10 pitches to record three quick outs against the middle third of the Yankee batting order.
Three up, three down.
That's been a familiar refrain since Uehara returned from the disabled list on Labor Day. He's made five scoreless appearances, allowed three hits, issued no walks and fanned six.
David Ortiz isn't the only 40-something member of the Red Sox defying age these days.
"And tonight,'' said John Farrell, "I think you started to see a little bit of an uptick to the finish to his pitches, which is encouraging. We felt like it was going to take some outings to build the arm strength further, but what he's done is, he's located extremely well.
"He hasn't missed with his split in the middle of the plate. With Koji's return, it gives (us) a little more flexibility. Knowing you've got Koji available, it can be a fairly comfortable inning.”
That's how life used to be, of course, when Uehara was in charge of the ninth. In 2013, and again a season later, there was no more reliable closer -- even if his fastball seldom sparked radar readings as high as 90 mph.
Uehara relied on deception and a deadly split-finger fastball to keep hitters off balance and routinely made them look foolish.
Supplanted as the team's closer last winter, Uehara moved to a setup role, where earlier this season, he was prone to the long ball, victimized by home runs eight times in his first 36 innings.
Then, in July, Uehara suffered a strained pectoral muscle, with no guarantee that, at 41, he would return this season. Instead, he made it back in about seven weeks and since he returned, has looked sharp.
"I feel,'' said Uehara, "really good about (the way I've pitched since returning).”
That's especially true since he faced the prospect of not returning at all.
"Absolutely,'' he agreed. "The initial report was that it might take three months. I was just hoping that I would be able to get back early and I trained accordingly. That was probably what helped.”
What's helped the Red Sox is knowing that they have a veteran accustomed to working the late innings of big games.