By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — To finish off their four-game sweep over the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox got three consecutive quality starts out of their rotation. But each start ended quite distinctly.
On Friday night, in what was the Red Sox’ shortest game of the season, Rick Porcello was a buzzsaw. After holding the Yankees to just one run on one hit and zero walks through eight innings, Porcello took the mound for the ninth inning to finish off the win. Manager Alex Cora was ejected in the first inning, thus rendering him a spectator for much of the night. It was a save situation in the ninth, but with closer Craig Kimbrel warm in the bullpen, Porcello was tasked with closing it out himself. He did just that, retiring the Yankees in order and capping off a complete game. He needed just 86 pitches to earn the victory.
On Saturday afternoon, Nathan Eovaldi was at 93 pitches through eight innings. The Red Sox led 4-0, making it a non-save situation. But Cora opted to end Eovaldi’s day and instead sent Kimbrel to the mound to finish off the victory. Kimbrel recorded two quick outs — via strikeout — but then allowed a pair of doubles and two walks. Kimbrel, who hadn’t pitched in nearly a full week, extinguished the bases-loaded threat, inducing a lazy fly ball from Greg Bird to end the game.
And on Sunday night, after David Price had dutifully kept the Yankees off the board through six innings on 95 pitches, Cora called upon his left-hander to head back to the hill for the seventh inning. It did not go well. Price allowed a single to Brett Gardner and then walked Austin Romine, prompting Cora to make a call to the bullpen. Heath Hembree couldn’t close the door, walking a .200 hitter who was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. And an ill-timed error from Xander Bogaerts didn’t help matters. The Yankees entered that inning trailing 1-0, but left with a 4-1 lead.
Clearly, the manager doesn’t follow a strict guideline when it comes to sticking with or pulling a starter from a game. Sunday’s decision to not only send out Price for the seventh but to stick with him after the leadoff single led to a rare moment of criticism for the first-year manager.
While each start appears to be considered on a case-to-case basis, Cora explained his reasoning for keeping Price in the game on Sunday.
“Yeah we felt that we had Gardner and Romine, lefty against lefty, that’s what he does,” Cora said. “But Gardy got a hit. With Romine, I know the numbers said that he’s good against him. But there’s a lot of singles there. Today, it was a popup and a ground ball to third. So we trusted the guy. He was locked in, he was commanding the strike zone, pitching out of the strike zone. So we felt that it was a good matchup for us. … He was good. Mixing up pitches. He did an outstanding job.”
Cora noted that Kimbrel was available to pitch Sunday, but given Saturday’s workload of 32 pitches, the Red Sox preferred to not use him. But Cora said that didn’t impact his decision-making with regard to Price.
“It was more about the way [Price] was throwing the ball,” Cora said.
In the case of Eovaldi, the starter was at 93 pitches through eight innings. Eovaldi had topped 100 pitches three times, but has not thrown more than 103 pitches in any start this year. Considering he missed all of the 2017 season after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery in 2016, the move to go to the bullpen seemed like an obvious move — even though Kimbrel didn’t exactly dominate the way Cora likely hoped he would.
“Just felt that it was OK to go to Craig there,” Cora said. “We’re not going to, for one inning, I know it’s great, it’s a complete game, but we have the best closer in the game. So in that situation, I felt like, up three, up four, we would bring in Craig. [Eovaldi] did his job. That’s what we needed, and then we went to Craig.”
Friday night’s situation was also unique. Porcello made one mistake all night long, allowing a solo home run to Miguel Andujar, but was otherwise perfect. Cora also was ejected from the game in the bottom of the first inning, so the managerial calls were technically not under his control. Regardless, even though Kimbrel was warming, it seemed as though there was not a manager on the planet who would have removed Porcello after the right-hander had needed just 78 pitches to throw eight scoreless innings.
Cora — when asked about a different decision that game — claimed that he had no input on any managerial decisions after his ejection.
“I had nothing to do with the game tonight,” Cora said. “I stayed in my office, and Ron [Roenicke] ran the show.”
What you end up with is three distinct situations, three different decisions, and three different direct outcomes (though the Red Sox did end up winning all three games). The Porcello decision (though it technically wasn’t Cora’s) was a no-brainer. Saturday’s decision, given Eovaldi’s pitch count and Kimbrel’s lack of recent action, was sensible.
Really, it was only Sunday’s decision that properly raises an eyebrow or two. Cora did open himself up to criticism for sending out Price to begin with in the seventh inning, and then again for sticking with him after the leadoff single. The critiques in such a situation are fair.
At the same time, what Cora gave David Price was an opportunity — a chance to turn a good outing into a very good outing. That’s something that Price has desperately needed against the Yankees (and that’s putting it mildly), but it’s something he wasn’t quite able to achieve. Plus, had Bogaerts been able to field a ball which he cleanly handles 9.5 times out of 10, the damage would have been minimal.
What’s fortunate for Cora and the Red Sox is that, just like so many other nights this season, a moment of on-the-job learning took place in the midst of a victory.