BOSTON — The Red Sox acquisition of Craig Breslow didn’t look too significant at the time. Boston was one game over .500 and 8.5 games out of first in the AL East when the trade happened July 31, 2012.
But in retrospect, it was the first real move GM Ben Cherington made in building this season’s roster. After all, Breslow was signed through 2013 and Cherington later extended the lefty’s contract through 2014 with a $4 million team option or $100,000 buyout for 2015.
Breslow has been invaluable to this year’s bullpen — and nearly as important as Koji Uehara.
The southpaw has provided the consistent reliability during the late innings that this team has drastically needed because of season-ending injuries to Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.
Breslow did so again last night here at Fenway Park. He came into a 2-2 tie with two Baltimore Orioles in scoring position and no outs in the eighth inning. He bailed Boston out of the jam without allowing any runs.
He retired AL MVP-candidate Chris Davis, a lefty, and Adam Jones, a righty, both on ground outs to shortstop with the infield drawn in. He then got Nick Markakis, a lefty, to fly out to left field.
But the Red Sox lost 3-2 as Uehara’s streaks of 37 consecutive batters retired and 27 straight scoreless outings both ended in the ninth.
Breslow has a 1.93 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 14 holds and only one blown save.
Since the All-Star Break, he has a brilliant 0.75 ERA. He’s one of the many big reasons why this Red Sox team is in a position to clinch the AL East this week. The magic number is at 3 with Tampa losing yesterday.
Breslow — who is a Yale graduate — was honored before yesterday’s game for being Boston’s nominee for this year’s Roberto Clemente Award.
Breslow, who double majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, has a foundation to raise awareness and funds for pediatric oncology. His sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 14 and has been a cancer survivor for 15 years.
Not only is Breslow a perfect fit for this Red Sox clubhouse because of his strong character but he also a perfect fit for the bullpen because of his ability to pitch effectively against both right-handed and left-handed batters.
“He’s been great not only against lefties but righties, too,” Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves said. “Holding runners. Minimizing damage in situations. And we have the confidence that he’s able to throw the ball over the plate. He’s a big-time strike thrower and he has command. It gives you that tranquility that the only way an opposing team can beat you is by swinging the bat.”
Breslow told The Eagle-Tribune earlier this season: “With righties I go more fastball/changeup, fastball/cutter. Lefties I’m more fastball/breaking ball. But I feel like the ability to throw multiple pitches in any count has kind of made me effective against both.”
The trade was quite a successful one for Boston which acquired the lefty for outfielder Scott Podsednik and right-hander Matt Albers. Podsednik hasn’t played a professional game this year and although Albers is doing well (3.36 ERA for Cleveland), he isn’t as effective against hitters from both sides of the plate as Breslow.
And Breslow clearly has better numbers.
Certainly when Miller, a lefty, suffered his season-ending injury in July and with southpaw Franklin Morales already then on the DL, Breslow’s presence became even greater.
“He was doing just great before I got hurt so it’s not like he stepped into much different of a role,” Miller said. “He was covering important innings for us already. He really done an exceptional job.
“At the time of the trade, I don’t know how far out they (front office) were looking,” Miller said.
“They seem like they’ve locked him up now so they’ll get three or four years out of him. We traded Albers who had done a good job for us. I think it was one of those things that they saw something and they were certainly on the money because he’s really done a good job.”
Righties have batted .222 against Breslow and lefties .231 during his career. Entering yesterday, righties had hit .207 against him and lefties .261 this summer.
“We definitely pitch different ways but at the same time, we still talk a lot about how we get different guys out,” Miller said, discussing his relationship with Breslow.
“I think the fact that he’s been around for a while and and he’s been in this role for a while, I can certainly go to him. He’s faced most everybody. So ‘What have you seen on this guy in the past? Do you have an approach?’ So there’s certainly something to be said for that and I appreciate having that.”
Breslow has helped in many different situations this summer. Look how valuable he was in Tampa Bay last week when he pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh inning after Clay Buchholz left after the fifth inning in his first start back from the DL.
The Red Sox will depend on Breslow greatly in the postseason as they have done this entire summer. Surprisingly, the 33-year-old Breslow — an eight-year major league veteran — has never pitched in the postseason.
He’ll definitely get his chance this October. And he’s a big reason why.
Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB