Perhaps the order doesn't matter as much as their consistent dominance. Together, they were vital in leading the sizzling Red Sox to a 6-3 victory over the Indians on Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Alfredo Aceves was clearly on the ropes when manager John Farrell came out to get him with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth, Boston's once comfortable 5-0 lead down to 5-3 and Mark Reynolds at second base.
Junichi Tazawa, however, quickly restored order. The 26-year-old righty with filthy stuff snuffed out the rally, getting a groundout from Cord Phelps, a flyout to center by Lonnie Chisenhall and strikeout to Drew Stubbs.
In the seventh, Tazawa (1.13 ERA) blew away all three batters he faced, striking out the side.
"Up to this time, it was always Koji's role to come in for that situation," Tazawa said through an interpreter. "He's been doing a very good job, so I tried to duplicate it and I was happy I was able to do so."
It was only fitting that after Tazawa's brilliant work was complete, Uehara came on next. Tazawa threw a mere 14 pitches in his 1-2-3 inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced.
When the exuberant Uehara (18 straight scoreless innings dating back to last season) came back into the dugout, he nearly leveled half of his teammates with a steady stream of high fives.
"I'm trying to not ruin my own hand," quipped Uehara.
In the ninth, it was Andrew Bailey's turn, and he notched his first save of the season. Bailey, a closer for most of his career, is filling that role again, at least while Joel Hanrahan (right hamstring strain) is on the disabled list.
So Boston's bullpen faced 12 batters on the night, and retired all 12 of them.
"Just outstanding stuff, particularly Taz," said Farrell. "He comes in with a man at second base, nobody out and seemed to get stronger in the two innings of work he had tonight. Koji continues to do what he's been doing all year. And it was good to see a little breathing room for Andrew to come in and close out the ninth. Good stuff, a lot of strikes. Some swing and miss to all three guys that came to the mound. Just a good all-around win tonight."
It is still early in the season, but the Red Sox are clearly developing a winning feeling. They're off to a 10-4 start and have won five in a row.
"Winning baseball games is a lot of fun," said Bailey. "The way Taz came in and threw the baseball today was awesome, and Ace threw really well, too. You can't say enough about Koji and the whole group of guys down there. It's fun. Anytime you can shorten a game, it's important. I think the starters know that, and obviously the way they're throwing is key to our success so far."
Aceves, making his second start in place of the injured John Lackey, gave the Red Sox what he had, firing five shutout innings before running into a world of trouble in the sixth. Carlos Santana started it with a walk. Nick Swisher followed by walloping a two-run homer to center. Then it was Jason Giambi's turn, and he unloaded for a 417-foot homer to right-center that made it a 5-3 game.
In truth, Aceves started to tire in the fifth, when the Indians loaded the bases. But Shane Victorino was off with the crack of the bat in right field to make a tremendous catch on a liner by Asdrubal Cabrera.
"So far, so good, man. It's a good season," said Aceves. "I'm just proud of [Victorino]. I can't wait to get home and sleep."
But for those nine innings on the field, the Red Sox aren't showing any weariness.
Offensively, the Sox got a surprising outburst from Mike Carp, who drilled two doubles and an RBI triple in his first start of the season.
"Carp, I was not surprised when he was in the lineup," said Tribe manager Terry Francona. "Just his swing path and everything, he goes out and gets that ball off [Justin Masterson] pretty good. They stayed on him and went the other way very well."
The top of the order was also a force, with Boston's 1-5 hitters all producing multihit games. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino both had three hits. Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava each had two RBIs.
Aceves earned the win, scattering seven hits and three runs over five-plus innings.
"The most important is that we won," Aceves said. "My fastball, curveball, cutter, changeup, they were real good. We played good defense."
For the second night in a row, the Sox got off to a hot start offensively. Ellsbury led the game off with a single against former teammate Masterson. Victorino was hit by a pitch. Dustin Pedroia laced a single to right to load the bases with nobody out. Napoli kept the train moving with a two-run single to right. Nava followed with an opposite-field RBI single to left that gave Aceves a 3-0 lead before he threw a pitch.
After squandering a couple of opportunities, the Red Sox again came through in the fifth. Stephen Drew got a two-out walk and Carp smashed an RBI triple to center that made it 4-0.
"Any time you hit a triple it's nice," said Carp. "You don't get too many of those, a standing triple."