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Saito better late than never

Saito better late than never
From the moment he signed with the Red Sox Jan. 10, Takashi Saito envisioned pitching in pressure-packed moments before a raucous Fenway Park crowd. But the Japanese reliever never expected to stare down the barrel of a more intense moment than the one he faced in the ninth inning of yesterday's 2-1 victory over the Orioles.

Saito threatened to ruin Jon Lester's stellar starting effort - four hits, nine strikeouts in seven shutout innings - not to mention Ramon Ramirez's scoreless eighth, when he put men on the corners in the ninth, prompting a visit from pitching coach John Farrell.

When Nick Markakis reached on a leadoff single to center and Aubrey Huff followed with a towering shot to left that enabled Markakis to advance from first to third, Saito seemed ripe for a meltdown.

So what was Farrell's message?

``He told me more than anything to keep the ball low,'' Saito said through his interpreter, Masa Hoshino. ``Whether it was my fastball or my breaking pitches, just to keep it low, and he came out just to remind me of that and that really helped me get back in a better spot.''

After Ty Wigginton grounded to third for the first out and Baltimore's only run, Saito kept the Orioles at bay when he induced Luke Scott to fly to right and fanned pinch hitter Gregg Zaun. It marked the final out of Saito's first Red Sox save and his first since Sept. 27, 2008, against the Giants in his regular-season finale with the Dodgers.

``It is really nice, gratifying, when you end up using the whole team,'' said Sox manager Terry Francona, who went to Saito to rest Jonathan Papelbon, who converted his fourth save in Saturday night's 6-4 victory over the Orioles.

``I know this isn't Little League or Pony League,'' Francona said. ``But we used guys [Saturday] night, we've been in and out of the bullpen, we go to different guys on different days and when they have success, I think it gives the club a lift. He was very excited.''

Working with George Kottaras behind the plate, Saito was able to mix his fastball with his curveball to pin the Orioles with their fourth consecutive loss.

``Definitely, he made some good pitches when he needed to,'' Kottaras said. ``And he just got out of a tough jam and it was awesome to see him do that.''

Saito became the first Sox reliever other than Papelbon to record a save since Manny Delcarmen against Cleveland last Sept. 24.

``On a team that has an unquestionable and unmovable closer, it's really encouraging to have the opportunity to be called to the mound in that situation,'' Saito said. ``I wanted to treat it the same as usual and pitch as usual, but today I wanted to leave a good result, no matter what.''

It was a vast improvement over his first appearance April 8 when he gave up a homer to Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria. He threw his first scoreless inning Saturday night, but he had little reservation about coming back and pitching yesterday.

``Whether I have one day between outings, or two days between outings, there's no guarantee that I'm going to feel good physically,'' Saito said. ``But it's my job to be ready to pitch even if it's on consecutive days.''

But was he nervous when he allowed back-to-back hits to start the ninth?

``Yeah, I was nervous, but at the same time I was really able to let go and focus in on the situation,'' Saito said. ``I realized that if I let up in those tough situations - bang, bang, bang - then guys are on base. So with the guys on the corners, it just reminded me of those really tight situations I faced as a closer and it reminded me to go in there and get those guys, aggressively, and it really helped me.''

He knew it was all part of the territory when he came to Boston.

``When I signed with the Red Sox , I had been told, and I had imagined myself, that I'd be pitching in situations like the one today,'' Saito said. ``To be able to contribute to a win really makes me feel like a part of this team, mentally, and for that reason I'm very happy.''

Michael Vega can be reached at

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 20, 2009

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