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Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4: Another feather in Alex Cora's cap

Rob Bradford
April 27, 2018 - 12:47 am

TORONTO -- Through 24 games, Alex Cora has a whole lot more hits than misses. When you've managed a team that has won all but one series through a month of the season, that's pretty obvious.

Thursday night, he connected again.

For starters, the result of the moment in question worked out. That came to fruition when Cora's decided to leave Chris Sale in for one more batter while sitting at 103 pitches with the Red Sox carrying a two-run lead. One pitch later, Toronto's Randall Grichuk popped out to catcher Christian Vazquez to get the visitors through the sixth unscathed. It would help pave the way for the final three innings, which the Sox punctuated with a 5-4 win over the Jays. (For a complete recap, click here.)

But that was just part of the payoff.

How Cora went about the move meant much more, at least to the key player involved.

As far as Sale performances go, this wasn't a resume-builder. He was good, but not great, actually raising his ERA to 2.36 despite giving up just three runs over his six innings. That's why it meant something for the lefty to punctuate it by getting that final out. Cora knew that. But he also understood the precarious position the starter had found himself thanks to an elevated pitch count.

It's why the Sox manager kept an open mind while walking out to meet with his ace.

"I went out there thinking about … I was in between there, honestly," said Cora, whose team is now 7-1 in one-run games. "I know the pitch count was getting up. He’s our ace. I tried to start the conversation and he stopped me right there. He was honest. He’s like, ‘I’ve got this guy, don’t worry about it. I’ve got it.’ He’s not going to change my mind a lot of times but usually when I don’t want the guy to change my mind I’ll go right to the umpire before I get to the line. That one, he’s still Chris Sale. Even when he’s not at his best, he’s better than a lot of guys. With all due respect to our guys in the bullpen. He made a pitch. He stayed under 105, which was the goal. He gave us a chance to win."

The practice of engaging in an open discussion with the starting pitcher hasn't been the protocol during the John Farrell tenure. Like Terry Francona, Farrell's reasoning for almost always taking out a pitcher when heading out to the mound was in order not be talked out a decision he knew needed to be made.

Cora has proven to take a different tact. Evidently the approach resonated with Sale.

"You respect it," Sale said of Cora's discussion. "It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. He’s been awesome since the day he got here. Obviously from my standpoint, I appreciate it. My job is to get to at least the sixth inning as a starter. And to be able to do that, kind of on the reins there a little bit, and him to have the faith and trust in me on a day when it looked like I didn’t really have it, especially right out of the gate. I figured some things out along the way, but for him to say, ‘Hey, I’m going with my guy here.’

"You look at the scenario we’ve got a right-handed hitter up. Righty reliever warming up in the bullpen. Just over 100 pitches. Scuffling out of the gate. For him to come out and be like, ‘Alright, what do you got?’ ‘I got it.’ ‘Alright, cool.’ Turned around and went the other way. I respect it. It’s nice. It’s a confidence booster for me, anyway. Having a reliever come in there in the sixth inning is not exactly what you want as a starting pitcher. So, yeah, respect it, for sure."

It was also interesting to juxtapose this instance with Sale's start at Rogers Centre one year and six days before. That time, with the Red Sox having taken a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning, Farrell sent then-pitching coach Carl Willis to let the lefty know his night was done after 102 pitches. That led to a signature quote after what would end up being an extra-inning win for the Red Sox. 

"I want the ball in that situation 10 times out of nine," Sale said about his desire to stay in.

This time, he got his chance. One pitch later and yet another decision had taken root for Cora and Co.

The biggest hit of the night (not even close) belonged to J.D. Martinez, whose three-run homer in the fifth inning gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't surrender. Martinez's home run (his 5th of the season) was a line-drive to the opposite field, clocking in at 112 mph.

"I'm always working on something, you know? I'm a guy always working on something," said Martinez, who had been 1-for-13 over his previous four games. "I've been working on something, just moving the puzzle pieces around really, that's how my swing is. It's a puzzle and I'm always every day trying to figure it out, trying to match with that pitcher. That's how it is all year.

"I think it's true all year. I think it doesn't change. I always say I had to self-teach my swing, so i'm a guy I'm always watching film, always grinding on it, to try and keep it polished and ready."

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