BOSTON -- The list of similarities between the two teams in the 2013 World Series is far longer than the differences. One of those similarities will, in all likelihood, decide who gets the trophy.
Both the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals have moved through the postseason with shutdown bullpens. It seems like one solid outing by a reliever is matched by the next man up.
Red Sox catcher David Ross, who got the start in Wednesday's Game 1, said that's not surprising.
"I feel like it's ‘I'm going to pass the torch to the next guy.' They're a close-knit group down there," Ross said. "They have each other's back. You can tell. They even hang out together off the field and in the locker room.
"They expect each guy to pass that torch to the next. I'm going in there and if I don't got it that day, the next guy does. That's a comforting feeling, knowing there's another guy behind you that if you mess up, they have a chance to get you out of [trouble]."
Boston's bullpen -- particularly the end of the pen -- has helped propel the Red Sox to this position. Closer Koji Uehara has five saves in Boston's seven victories. Uehara and set-up relievers Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Brandon Workman all have postseason earned-run averages below 2.00. Opposing hitters are batting .294 against Tazawa, which is some 70 points higher than Workman's next highest .222.
"You can never undervalue" the bullpen, Red Sox manager John Farrell said. Farrell is a former major league pitcher, and was the pitching coach under Red Sox manager Terry Francona during the World Series title years of 2004 and 2007. He understands how the bullpen has helped.
"The work of Workman, Breslow, Tazawa and Koji have been invaluable," he said in a pregame media session on Wednesday. "If it weren't for that bullpen and the success of them, you [the media] might be in Detroit right now."
Uehara is a pitcher who just goes out and throws his pitches. Speaking through a translator, the Boston closer didn't talk much about any kind of relief pitching momentum.
"I'm not really sure if it's contagious or not," he said. "I'm not really looking at how the pitcher did in front of me. It's just doing what I have to do."
Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow said he believes that while the success of starting pitchers can be contagious, it's moreso in the bullpen.
"It's not a series of isolated events. The better one pitcher does, the less the next guy has to do," said Breslow. "I've heard starting pitching is contagious and hitting is contagious. In the bullpen, it seems to be the only rational explanation."
It's not just about the Boston bullpen, which has been outstanding. The St. Louis relief corps has been practically as good. The Cardinals weren't in as many close games in the postseason, so closer Trevor Rosenthal has only registered three saves. But Rosenthal has a 0.00 ERA in six games and opposing hitters are batting only .136 against him.
Rosenthal and Uehara are almost accidental closers. Uehara wasn't Farrell's first choice as closer but has been nearly perfect. Rosenthal wasn't manager Mike Matheny's first pick either.
"It's exciting" to be the closer, said Rosenthal, who was a starter until the 2012 season. "Thinking about it, the most exciting part is knowing after that third out, the team is going to be coming out all smiles. That's the thing I look forward too the most."
The two teams have had outstanding bullpens, but they do their jobs in different ways. The Cardinals have young relievers who can throw around 100 miles an hour. The Boston relievers rely on guile and location more than blowing batters out of the box.
"They throw a lot harder than I do," Breslow said. "It's about getting outs. As a reliever, you're going to be called upon -- likely in a crucial situation in a game to get important outs. It doesn't really matter how you get them."
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