DETROIT -- If Koji Uehara believed his manager had lost faith in him after Game 3, a third gopher ball served up in his third postseason appearance Thursday likely sealed his fate.
Ron Washington could have given Yoshinori Tateyama the ball in the seventh inning with the Texas Rangers trailing the Detroit Tigers, 6-2, in a wild Game 5 that turned upside-down in the sixth with four Tigers runs. Washington, though, went back to Uehara, whose psyche at this point might be as damaged as his fastball.
"I gave up a home run, so I'm not convinced of that pitch," Uehara said of the 90 mph fastball that Ryan Raburn hit out. "I'm struggling right now."
Which makes it a bit of a mystery as to why Washington went back to the right-hander acquired in a deadline deal from Baltimore. The call for Uehara became even more debatable as the Rangers clawed back to 7-4 in the eighth and then 7-5 in the ninth -- the eventual final score -- with the go-ahead run at the plate.
Clearly, Washington preferred not to employ Mike Adams, Scott Feldman or Alexi Ogando at that point with a four-run deficit, even though the teams get a travel day Friday before the ALCS resumes with Game 6 on Saturday night in Arlington.
So the struggling Uehara got the call, maybe a last hope for Washington that the reliever would snap back. He got Austin Jackson to swing-and-miss for strike three. But then came the psyche crusher: Ryan Raburn jumped on Uehara's first-pitch fastball and it was 7-2.
Then came a five-pitch walk to Miguel Cabrera. Uehara got Victor Martinez to pop up and then Washington came to the mound and called for the left-hander Mike Gonzalez to pitch to left-hand-hitting Don Kelly, a defensive replacement in the top half of the inning for Delmon Young.
Uehara has allowed a home run in all three of his postseason outings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first pitcher in major league history to allow a home run in three consecutive postseason relief appearances.
"Obviously, Washington gave me three chances to prove myself, but I haven't been able to produce," Uehara said. "I feel badly."
Uehara said he will always be ready, but it would seem the Rangers' bullpen will consist of one less option for Game 6 and, if necessary, a do-or-die Game 7 on Sunday.
The Rangers should be in good shape. Adams pitched a quick eighth inning, allowing a one-out base hit, but induced a double-play ball to get off the field in 10 pitches. So it sets up a rested Feldman, Ogando, Adams and closer Neftali Feliz for a second shot at clinching the AL pennant.
How those four are used will depend upon how deep starter Derek Holland can go.
The Tigers' bullpen should also return to full strength. Manager Jim Leyland did exactly what he said he wanted to before the game: let Justin Verlander go as long as he could and finish up with Phil Coke. It played out as scripted, perhaps with a bit more late drama than Leyland would have liked, but it allowed Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde to now have full days to recover from a heavy workload through the first four games.
"We did exactly what we felt we had to do to give ourselves any chance to win the series," Leyland said.
As the former Rangers pitcher Benoit said after Game 3, this series will go how the bullpens go.