BOSTON — The marriage of Craig Kimbrel and the ninth inning is unlikely to change this season, based on the way manager John Farrell spoke Saturday afternoon.
It’s unfortunate that relationship is so committed. Because there are few moments that leave you wondering “What if?” like keeping a reliever who is so much better than everyone out of a game during an eighth-inning collapse, because that pitcher just has to pitch the ninth inning.
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Would Farrell use Kimbrel in the eighth inning but not the ninth, foregoing a save?
“I wouldn’t rule it out, but part of the way our bullpen is constructed and the way it’s been extremely successful, I mean if, for instance, if we’re talking hypotheticals here and if we didn’t have a bullpen that was ranked going into last night the best in baseball, something has been working pretty darn well,” Farrell said Saturday. “So, that’s to say I have complete confidence in every guy that’s in that bullpen and as establishing roles is important to that, I think staying consistent with it is part of that success.”
This is not a condition unique to the Red Sox. Not at all. Come playoff time, assuming the Sox make it, maybe there’s greater leniency.
But saves come in the ninth, from finishing out games. Closers get saves. Kimbrel is a closer.
Farrell believes in the benefit of bullpen roles. Undoubtedly, routine and structure are beneficial. But the implication that Kimbrel pitching the eighth inning could not be incorporated into routine or structure doesn’t really hold up. If Addison Reed’s innings are flexible and Matt Barnes' are as well, Kimbrel’s could be too.
Farrell’s done a good job with the bullpen this year. The relievers themselves deserve more credit than anyone. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
The Washington Nationals will ask to speak to Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora after the ALCS, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported, which could throw a wrench into the Red Sox' plans to name Cora their manager.
The Sox appeared close to naming Cora to replace John Farrell after the Astros season is finished, NBC Sports Boston Red Sox Insider Evan Drellich reported earlier this week. Then the Nats decided to part ways with manager Dusty Baker after consecutive N.L. East titles but Division Series flameouts.
Cora, 41, as Cafardo points out, was once offered a player development job with the Nats, who were the last team he played for (2011) in his 14-plus years as a major league infielder, including 2005-08 with the Red Sox.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo obviously has a fondness for Cora, telling MLB.com in 2011:
"I think it comes natural to him to be a teacher. Alex still has a lot left in his tank as a player. But he has my number, and when he’s done playing, he can make a call. It will be well-received."
After interviewing Cora, ex-Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and Ron Gardenhire, who took the Tigers job this week, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told WEEI.com that he was still "undecided" if he'll interview anyone else.
HOUSTON - Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.
Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.
After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.
Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.