Bradford: Here we go again with these Red Sox

Rob Bradford
March 30, 2019 - 5:15 am

SEATTLE -- Tim Hyers paused before going into the visitors' clubhouse dining room and pointed toward the hallway which led to the manager's office.

"That guy ...," the Red Sox hitting coach exclaimed.

Hyers didn't need to finish his statement. It was understood. He was pointing to Alex Cora.

When it comes to the Red Sox' manager people were ready to pounce. That's how it works. Once anyone reaches the pinnacle it becomes sport to find ways to make the perch a bit more difficult to sit upon. It happened at times last season when Cora dug into his way of thinking and certainly surfaced as Friday night's game against the Mariners unfolded.

Nathan Eovaldi was getting rocked a day after Chris Sale suffered a similar fate. The Red Sox were seemingly on their way to a second loss in as many tries, with Cora having already been put in the crosshairs for the spring training approach to his starting pitchers along with unwavering faith in an unknown bullpen.

Then 2018 kicked in.

"We felt like this was a playoff game," said Red Sox second baseman Eduardo Nunez. "We forgot this was the second game of the season."

That's because the malaise of spring training had finally worn off, revealing all the same elements of last season's success. In fact, it was almost eerie how the narrative changed to becoming a mirror image of the World Series run. The key innings from an unsung bullpen. A flurry of timely hits. And, of course, there was Cora.

The first hint that the manager's Midas touch hadn't been lost in the banquet circuit came in the most subtle of ways. The pitcher who had been torched for seven balls put in play of 100 mph or better, along with a total of six runs over five innings, Eovaldi, was left in for one more inning when such things seemed to matter little. What it did was allow Cora to set up his bullpen without overextending the group on just Day 2.

Considering Eovaldi's ineffectiveness, and relative high pitch count, this was far from a no-brainer.

"I mean for whatever happened out there he gave us the biggest three outs of the game because we needed him one more inning and I think around that time," said Cora of Eovaldi's perfect fifth inning. "I said if he gives us three outs we’re going to win this game because we know we can hit. We know we can come back. But he got us those three innings. A lot of pitches over the heart of the plate. Wow, they squared some balls up, they hit the ball hard. But the last inning, he actually wanted one more and I was like ‘Nah this is the first game of the season we’re not playing that game yet,’ but for how bad he was, he gave us the biggest three outs of the game because he gave us a chance to win."

He added, "It was huge. We were actually thinking, ‘Well if he can’t get out of this inning, what are we going to do the next three or four innings?’ That’s what you’ve got to do. You don’t want to be in a hole right away, two games. We’ve got 11 in a row, you burn the bullpen right away. It was huge. It was huge. For how bad he was, for him to go out there and give us those three outs was very important."

Thanks to home runs from J.D. Martinez (6th inning) and Christian Vazquez (8th), Cora got his chance to pull the most important strings. Those came in the ninth.

After a leadoff double from Rafael Devers, it was Sam Travis' spot in the order. The first baseman had already come away with two hits but with righty closer Hunter Strickland on the mound it was deemed necessary to bring on a lefty hitter. The options were Brock Holt, Mitch Moreland and Blake Swihart. Cora went with the accomplished, Swihart, saving Moreland for a situation involving more runners on base.

The manager had already resisted the temptation to use Moreland in a pinch-hitting role in the seventh with the Red Sox trailing by three, a man on and one out. The thought was there would be another chance to use his biggest home run threat off the bench. He was right. 

Swihart reached via a hit-by-pitch, moving to second on Jackie Bradley Jr's fielder's choice. Now it was time for Moreland.

Third pitch. Ninety-five right down the middle. Three-run homer. Game-winner. Sound familiar.

"A lot of things remind me of the World Series," Cora said. "(Mallex) Smith with the (leadoff) home run, it was like, ‘Wow, Nate, he sucks. The last two hitters he faced have hit home runs.’ We turned the page on that. Now we’re ready to play ... We didn't stop playing. It was pretty cool."

Seemed like old times.