NEW YORK -- When the interviews finally ended and the media dissipated, Koji Uehara took a deep breath, looked at the floor and tried to blink back the tears slowly welling in his eyes.
But the emotion of Saturday afternoon, when Uehara was traded to the Rangers in exchange for first baseman Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter, was too much for the well-liked right-hander, widely considered one of the best available arms on the trade market, as he said goodbye to the organization that had signed him out of Japan.
"I'm sure I'll always be thinking of Baltimore," said Uehara, who signed a two-year deal with the Orioles in January 2009, through interpreter Jiwon Bang. "There are two contradicting feelings. Part of me says that a contending team wants me, and that's gratifying. At the same time, Baltimore ... I've been there for two years. It's really sad."
Signed to be a top-of-the-rotation starter behind ace Jeremy Guthrie, Uehara went 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA in his first 12 Major League starts but was beset with injuries and deemed a better fit for the bullpen. The move, which was made last spring, gave the Orioles a potent late-inning arm, as Uehara emerged as the team's closer, compiling a 2.86 ERA to go with 13 saves.
But the injury issues continued. Uehara found himself on the disabled list twice in 2010, and the Orioles cautiously signed the free agent to a two-year deal that was heavily incentive-based. A new conditioning program and a very light spring workload kept Uehara, who was used sparingly to start the season, healthy and productive, and he quickly established himself as one of the best right-handed relievers in the American League.
The 36-year-old compiled a 1.02 ERA in his last 32 games, allowing just four earned runs over a span of 35 1/3 innings, and his walk-to-strikeout ratio is an incredible 62-to-8.
With a fastball that tops out in the upper 80s, Uehara is a deception artist with pinpoint control, and he is joining a Rangers team that is badly in need of late-inning relief.
"They have a great lineup and great starting pitching," Uehara said of the Rangers. "They give me a chance to pitch, and I'll do my best."
Texas had been talking to San Diego about Heath Bell, but Uehara has better numbers, he has been successful in the AL and he has a vesting option for next season. If he pitches in 12 more games this season, he becomes a signed player for 2012 at $4 million. The Orioles also sent $2 million to Texas as part of the deal.
Asked if he has any anxiety about pitching in Texas, where he has struggled, Uahara admitted that it could be a challenge.
"Maybe. That's one big concern that I may have," he said. "I'm not sure yet."
What he is sure of is the fondness he will always have for the organization, his teammates and the city of Baltimore.
Asked if he had a final message for Orioles fans, Uehara expressed his gratitude.
"We're not going to be on the same team anymore, but if they have time to check me out, that would be great," he said. "I just want to thank the fans for their cheers and everything."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.