By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Things have been going pretty well for first-year manager Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox this season. There haven’t been any major off-field crises, and on the field, it would be hard to find too much fault with most anything the skipper has decided to do.
But on Tuesday night in Minnesota, things went sideways. And it’s not outrageous to say the bottom of the eighth was the worst half-inning of baseball for the Red Sox since Opening Day in Tampa.
Here’s what happened: With the Red Sox trailing 2-1 in the top of the eight, Cora called for Robby Scott to get up in the bullpen to relieve Chris Sale. Scott had been recalled earlier in the day and had yet to make an MLB appearance this season. But Sandy Leon lined a single into right field, scoring Rafael Devers and tying the game at 2-2.
The game situation changed, but Cora still called on Scott in a tie game for the bottom of the eighth.
Scott promptly walked leadoff man Ryan LaMarre on six pitches, bringing Joe Mauer to the plate. Scott got Mauer into an 0-2 hole quickly, but Mauer then fouled off a sinker before taking two balls to even the count. The 2-2 offering rode inside on Mauer and caught a piece of his jersey, and just like that the Twins had two on and nobody out.
Cora opted to leave Scott in to face the left-handed Eddie Rosario, who’s arguably the Twins’ most dangerous hitter, but Scott was able to induce a shallow pop-out to center field.
Cora then called on Joe Kelly, who probably should have started the inning, to come in and clean up the mess. He couldn’t do it. Kelly allowed a base hit to center off the bat of Eduardo Escobar, which should have plated one run but ended up scoring two when Jackie Bradley Jr. inexplicably misplayed the ball as he ran toward left-center field. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Mauer to score and Escobar to stroll into third base.
From there, it went from bad to worse. Kelly walked Brian Dozier and then gave up a two-run triple to to Robbie Grossman on a play where Bradley was playing shallow and was shading Grossman slightly to the opposite field.
The game was over, with the Twins leading 6-2, when Bradley made a nice play to cut down the potential seventh run for Minnesota to end the inning. Trailing by four, the Red Sox went quietly in the top of the ninth, taking the loss.
It was a peculiar inning for a team that has not had many. And considering the Red Sox had an off day Monday, and considering Kelly hadn’t pitched since Thursday, the decision to go with Scott in a 2-2 game for his season debut stands out as an odd one. But Cora stuck by his decision, even after the loss.
“That was the perfect situation for [Scott],” Cora said. “Ninth hitter, then Joe, then Eddie. That’s what he’s here for, to get lefties out. We felt like their ninth hitter [LaMarre], he wasn’t going to do damage against him. And, whatever, he got Eddie out but at that point I made up my mind that if they’re going to score, it has to be against Joe in that spot.”
Rather than regret his decision, Cora suggested that Scott simply needed to be more aggressive in attacking LaMarre with strikes.
Of course, considering Kelly allowed two hits and a walk in his two-thirds of an inning of work, you can’t say for certain that the Red Sox would have fared better had the right-hander started the inning. But that has been his role, and in a close game on the road, it’s a spot probably better suited for the guy who’s been doing it all year long as opposed to the guy who just got called up from Pawtucket. Cora said that Kelly would have been called upon to start the eighth if the Red Sox had taken a lead in the top of the eighth, but instead he came in to a two-on, one-out situation to try to clean up a mess. It wasn’t ideal.
That inning, combined with a night of offensive futility (the Red Sox went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position), led to the Red Sox falling to just 8-8 in games started by Sale. Considering Sale has a 2.74 ERA and has averaged 6.1 innings per start, and considering the Red Sox rank second in the majors with 5.04 runs per game, that 8-8 record in Sale starts seems truly inconceivable. Yet the record is what the record is, and the most recent result has to be as frustrating as any.