How Alex Cora viewed a most uncomfortable ninth inning

Rob Bradford
July 24, 2019 - 1:21 am

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There are the metaphorical sighs of relief and then there are the actual sighs of relief. Alex Cora let out the latter after his postgame meeting with the media Tuesday night.

It was that type of win for the Red Sox. (For a complete recap of the Sox' 5-4 win, click here.)

Up until the ninth inning, this wasn't trending toward anything but a definitive Sox victory over the Rays. They were up by three with only two relievers -- Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman -- having entered the game. Then came some trouble and a very complicated chain of events for the Red Sox and their manager.

It started with Cora deciding to bring Workman -- who had thrown 11 pitches in the eighth inning -- back to close out the ninth. While Barnes had already pitched the seventh, there still was the options of Nathan Eovaldi, Heath Hembree and Marcus Walden. But it was determined that Workman would be counted on to get more than four outs for the fourth time this season.

Workman did allow Matt Duffy a leadoff single but immediately followed by inducing what should have been a 4-6-3 double-play grounder off the bat of Joey Wendle. But second baseman Michael Chavis' feed to shortstop Xander Bogaerts was low, resulting in just a single out. It was a play Cora pointed to after the game as pivotal in making the rest of the frame as uncomfortable as it ended up being.

"He hasn’t pitched in a while so he cruised through the eighth and in the ninth, we don’t turn the double play and we put ourselves in a bad position," said Cora, who hadn't used Workman since a 45-pitch outing on July 17. "We have to play better defense. We turn the double play, he’s not in that spot. People see the walks and everything that happened, we turn the double play and that game is over. We trust the guy. He’s been amazing the whole season. He’s one of those guys, he can go multiple innings and we didn’t make a play and it almost cost us the game."

Workman did come back by striking out pinch-hitter Nate Lowe before issuing a free pass to Willy Adames. Ji-Man Choi proceeded to single to cut the visitors' lead to three, loading the bases for Travis d'Arnaud. With Walden warming up, Cora left Workman in despite closing in on 40 pitches. 

After getting to a full count, d'Arnaud punctuated what would be a 44-pitch appearance by Workman with a bases-loaded walk, leaving the Red Sox with a two-run lead. How many times did the righty think he was going to ease out of the jam? "A couple," the reliever said.

Things didn't get any better for the next pitcher, Walden, who walked Tommy Pham on four pitches to help the Rays draw within a run while loading the bases. Cora decided to leave the righty in with nobody warming up, relying on Walden to end things with Austin Meadows at the plate with the bases full.

No Eovaldi. No Hembree. Walden, who had retired Pham in their previous five meetings, was going to be the guy.

"I’m not going to bring him in there," said Cora when asked about Eovaldi's availability. "It was him or just the matchups we like. Pham against Waldy is something we’ve been doing the whole season. We like that matchup."

Fortunately for Cora, the move to leave in Walden against Meadows paid off with the Rays' outfielder grounding to first baseman Christian Vazquez for the game-ender.

With the chaos in the rearview mirror, the manager chose to focus on how his bullpen is still in decent shape heading into the series finale.

"It’s something where now, we’ve got another option," he said, citing Eovaldi's presence. "Tomorrow, we’ll stay away from Work. We’ve got Nate, we’ve got Barnesy for probably one out and that’s the difference. Now you have one extra arm that you know with stuff, we don’t have to rely on everybody. That’s the difference. We made a decision going with Barnesy and Work with the meat of the lineup in the eighth, he did an outstanding job. I felt like, yeah, he can get the ninth. It got a little bit hairy there, it was kind of like, tough, whatever, but we got the out and we move on. Tomorrow, he’s going to be down but we’ve got Nate and we’ve got Waldy, Barnesy for one, we’ve got JT (Josh Taylor), we’ve got Darwinzon (Hernandez) so that’s the difference compared to early in the season."