BOSTON -- When the Red Sox signed Junichi Tazawa out of Japan's Industrial League nearly four years ago, nobody quite knew what to expect. Up until then, nearly every Japanese player who came to the United States had played professional ball.
Tazawa has been proving of late that the Red Sox did well by being ahead of the curve. In a second half which has had precious few good storylines, Tazawa has become an invaluable member of Boston's bullpen.
He was marvelous in Tuesday night's 4-3 win against the Yankees, firing 1 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out three.
Tazawa has pitched 27 games for the Red Sox this season, posting a 1.54 ERA. Over 35 innings, he has just five walks and 35 strikeouts.
It is clear that Tazawa is no longer tentative after having Tommy John surgery in 2010.
"In Spring Training, he was still cautious with his arm," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He couldn't throw his breaking ball, nor his fastball, with the kind of effort that he wanted. He was always holding back just five or 10 percent, according to him. Now he's not holding back, he's throwing 96 and 97 and he has impeccable control and three pitches. I think moving forward he's going to be a very good pitcher on a championship team."
At one point, the Red Sox were developing Tazawa on a starter's path, but he seems to have found a niche in the bullpen.
"This is my first full season since coming back from Tommy John, so my goal this season was to stay healthy and pitch a full season," Tazawa said. "I've been able to accomplish that so far. Moving forward, I'm not really going to expect to be in the rotation or in the bullpen. I just want to make sure I'm healthy and pitch well, and I think everything else will work itself out."
Because of his time managing in Japan, Valentine knew of Tazawa before he became the Red Sox's skipper.
"He was unique," Valentine said. "He was the case study that caused quite an uproar. When I was there, he was going to be my number one draft choice there. Instead, out of the amateur industrial league, he signed a professional contract here. I think the first one to ever do it, so he is unique."
With wife in labor, Pedroia leaves game
BOSTON -- It all happened quickly for Dustin Pedroia, his Wednesday night exit from not only the game, but also Fenway Park.
Boston's sparkplug hit a single to right with two outs in the sixth. Then James Loney lined out.
Pedroia was getting ready to take his position at second base for the seventh when manager Bobby Valentine gave him the news: his wife, Kelli, was in labor at a nearby hospital.
To Pedroia, this was a far better outcome than what could have happened a week ago, when the Red Sox were on the West Coast.
"I just got the word that it was time," Valentine said. "I told him, I said, 'What do you want to do?' Actually I told him to leave. I didn't ask him what he wanted to do. I said 'It's time.'"
The Pedroias were expecting their second child. Their son, Dylan, was born in 2009.
Pedroia went 2-for-3 on Wednesday and is hitting .295 on the season.
Aceves, Valentine discuss latest episode
BOSTON -- When Bobby Valentine emerged from the dugout to remove Alfredo Aceves from Wednesday's game against the Yankees, the pitcher stood on the opposite side of the mound from his manager. Once Chris Carpenter started to make his way in from the bullpen, Aceves veered behind the mound as he walked back to the dugout, never walking by Valentine -- let alone engaging in any type of dialogue with his manager.
Back on Aug. 24, Aceves had a temper in Valentine's office when he wasn't used in a closing situation. The next night, he was suspended for three games. Upon returning to the team -- Aceves flew out to the West Coast on his own -- he lost the closer's role that he had served in all season.
In other words, it was easy to read between the lines of this moment on Wednesday night and think Aceves might have some lingering hard feelings toward his manager.
"That's what you say. No, I was there," Aceves said. "I was standing up. I didn't have the baseball with me, so what am I going to do? I'm going to go away from the field. What am I going to do?"
Aceves was asked if everything is "good" between him and Valentine?
"I'm good, yes, thank you," said Aceves. "I'm good. Ask him if he's good. I don't know."
Valentine was asked if he felt Aceves was trying to show him up.
"I'll have to look at it [on video], and who cares if he showed me up," Valentine said. "If I have to explain Aceves' actions, I'll wind up going across the river and work for Harvard."
What upset Valentine was that the two-run homer that Aceves served up to Curtis Granderson -- after a single by Derek Jeter -- wound up being the difference in a game the Red Sox lost, 5-4, to the Yankees.
"Heck, he faced two guys there that he handled pretty good," Valentine said. "I think they were 1-for-20 against him collectively in the past. He gave up a single and a home run. It wasn't what I expected."
Saltalamacchia returns to Red Sox's lineup
BOSOTN -- After sitting out for three games with back spasms, Jarrod Saltalamacchia returned to the Red Sox's lineup for Wednesday night's game against the Yankees, batting sixth and catching.
"It's better than it was yesterday," said Saltalamacchia. "The doc said the other day he doesn't see it regressing at all if I go out and play. I've just got to keep it loose. It feels better, so I'm going to go with it."
Boston's lineup can certainly use Saltalamacchia's thump. The catcher has 23 homers this season.
"I think Salty is going to finish strong," said manager Bobby Valentine. "If we get his bat in the lineup, he's going to help us win some games."
Saltalamacchia thinks the injury is far more a case of wear and tear than any kind of chronic ailment.
"This is new," said Saltalamacchia. "As a catcher, you're always going to have knees and lower backs [aching]. I've had just soreness, never to this effect. It's nothing to be alarmed about. It's just the normal soreness, and the West Coast trip didn't help out."
Elbow better, Atchison activated off disabled list
BOSTON -- Even when Scott Atchison learned in late July that he had some degree of tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, he had conviction he could avoid Tommy John surgery. And there the right-hander was, back on Boston's roster for Wednesday's game against the Yankees.
"When they said he might not pitch again [this season], I looked in his eyes, and he said, 'No, I'm going to pitch. This is easy,'" said manager Bobby Valentine. "He researched a little, found out that some other people had the same injury as he did and came back and pitched. He went down and shut people out in the Minor Leagues, and now he's back in the big leagues. It's a credit to him as a person, as well as him as a pitcher. He's special."
Atchison, who was activated off the 60-day disabled list, pitched as well as anyone on Boston's pitching staff throughout the first half, going 2-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 37 games.
"Any time you have any kind of injuries, it's always tough," Atchison said. "I just feel like we've made the right steps. And like I said, I'm excited to get back out there. It's disappointing that I had to miss a couple of months, but we've gotten through that and now I'll finish up strong and take it to the offseason."
The way Atchison's elbow has felt lately between outings, he feels confident he made the right decision to decline surgery.
"So far it's been good, no problems," said Atchison. "I don't foresee any. I just want to get a few outings in and finish off proving to myself that everything is OK."
Pesky's life to be celebrated at Fenway on Sept. 23
BOSTON -- The Red Sox will give their fans a unique opportunity to celebrate the life of late franchise icon Johnny Pesky in a Sept. 23 ceremony at Fenway Park.
The tribute will start at 6 p.m. ET. The Red Sox have a 1:35 p.m. game against the Orioles that day. Fans with tickets are welcome to stay for the tribute. Also, the tribute is free of admission for anyone who wishes to attend.
In addition to hearing stories about Pesky's memorable career, fans will be able to walk on the warning track and see displays that illustrate Pesky's life a player, coach, manager, broadcaster, ambassador, patriot, husband, father and friend.
Fans will also have the opportunity to write personal messages that will be given to his family and become part of the Nation's Archives at Fenway Park.
Castiglione recognized for 30 years on the job
BOSTON -- When Joe Castiglione started broadcasting Red Sox games on radio, Carl Yastrzemski was playing his final season. A young Roger Clemens was the Red Sox's top pitching prospect, still one year from making his Major League debut. In Castiglione's rookie year, Wade Boggs won the first of his five batting titles.
Castiglione has clearly stood the test of time, still in the booth some 30 years later. Prior to Wednesday's game vs. the Yankees, the Red Sox held a ceremony to honor Castiglione.
Only the late Ned Martin (32 years) had a longer continuous tenure behind the microphone for the Red Sox. But Martin never got to experience the thrill of announcing a World Series championship for the Red Sox, something Castiglione got to do in 2004 and '07.
Castiglione's signature phrase -- "Can you believe it?" -- has become a staple of New England summers.
Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president/CEO Larry Lucchino all attended the ceremony, as did several of Castiglione's family members. Former manager Joe Morgan, who is one of Castiglione's closest friends, sat next to him.
As part of the tribute, some of Castiglione's most memorable calls were replayed, including the second 20-strikeout performance by Clemens, the end of Pedro Martinez's magnificent Game 5 of the 1999 American League Division Series vs. the Indians, Jon Lester's no-hitter in 2008, the legendary steal by Dave Roberts in the 2004 AL Championship Series and, of course, the last outs of the '04 and '07 World Series.
Castiglione was presented with a golden album of his greatest hits, as well as a vacation to a destination of his choice. Castiglione addressed the Fenway faithful wearing a red Jimmy Fund uniform top with the number 30 on the back.
"God really has blessed me with a chance to watch the best of the best for 30 seasons, from the best seat in the house and talk to the best fans in baseball," Castiglione said. "For 24 of those 30 years, I've had a winning team to broadcast, including 12 postseasons and two world championships. And I know we'll be back to that forum very soon."