ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The culmination of so much for three men — Craig Kimbrel, Alex Cora and David Price — poured out in one night in front of fewer than 20,000 people Friday.
Like many intimidating forces of nature with a baseball in their hand, Kimbrel almost never looks shaken. He is the aggressor, a symbol of composure
The potential Hall of Famer acknowledged after the Red Sox first win of the season that he is more emotional than we may see.
“Just not with y’all,” he said, smiling.
Kimbrel on Friday recorded his first save since the birth of his daughter, Lydia, who is recovering in the hospital after a heart procedure. The score was 1-0, the Rays’ Nos. 2-3-4 hitters were up, and Kimbrel struck out them all. He barely had spring training, returning to Boston to be by Lydia’s side. The Sox want to ease him in. He looked like he could finish out an All-Star Game.
“Huge,” pitching coach Dana LeVangie said, himself looking like he was trying to process the balance of life and baseball that unfolded before him Friday. “Because of what he went through all spring training and most of last year, leading up to the end of the year. He knew [Lydia would be born with a heart condition]. But he never let anyone know, or let on to that.”
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His wife and daughter watched the game, although bottle time, Kimbrel said, probably came before watching dad pitch.
“I was definitely thinking about her,” Kimbrel said. “Absolutely. I think I might have a hard time not doing that.
“Baseball's still the same, it's life that's different. … My purpose away from this game has definitely changed.”
David Price made his name at Tropicana Field, where he spent so many years dominating, smiling. He sullied his name in 2017 in Boston, losing his composure as his arm betrayed him, his world caving in because of an elbow injury and matters he’s only vaguely alluded to.
In his first start in a new year — new is the operative word for Price — he did not have his curveball. He was limited to only 76 pitches. And the southpaw was still marvelous for seven shutout innings, walking none, allowing just four hits.
When Chris Sale was added to the Red Sox rotation, the dream for fans was a 1-2 punch that could look unstoppable. Price was hurt. He was a reliever in the playoffs. A year later, the dream can be realized. Sale and Price combined for 13 shutout innings in the first two games of the season.
“All five of us,” Price said of the rotation. “I’m excited to see what Eddy [Rodriguez is] going to do. To me, he’s been our best pitcher in spring training just watching him throw in bullpens and watching him throw on the backfields. I think we’re all excited to see Eddy. But if all five of our starters can have, not even great years, just have good years, I think we can do something really special.”
The tide is turning toward pitching, not something else that rhymes with it. Price struck out five, spotting his cutter. He was in a good mood in spring training, an equally good mood after this first outing. A pitcher who lost his way took another step on the path to redemption Friday.
“A huge step for David Price, because as he told us, probably the second week of March, he got over a hump in spring training and he felt tremendous,” LeVangie said. “And the first time he felt that way in a long time. Big time. Big time for our team, big time for him. Really important.”
Alex Cora was drenched, not from sweat, but booze. They got him in the shower — the veteran pitchers made sure the rookie manager didn’t escape his first win without the alcoholic equivalent of a Gatorade bath.
The new skipper didn’t have the easiest day Friday. A night earlier, during his first game at the helm, a 4-0 lead slipped away in the eighth inning. His bullpen moves were immediately picked apart.
A day later, the first Puerto Rican manager in Red Sox history recorded a victory not only for a franchise, but for his country.
“I think about my dad,” Cora said. “He passed away when I was 13 and how important he was. [My brother] Joey and the 25 people that are here. And my mom back home, I bet she’s going nuts right now.
“For how bad it was yesterday, this is awesome. A 1-0 game. I’ve really had both ends of the spectrum. I’m happy, but more happy for those guys: David bouncing back, having a good outing. Kimbrel on the mound. It’s great.”
Ron Roenicke, Cora’s veteran bench coach, was once a big league manager. The feeling he recalled from his first victory: relief.
“You do all these things in spring, and you think you’ve done everything right,” Roenicke said. “And everything is going smooth. You want to come out and win the first one, and when you don’t, it just kind of goes up into the next. The farther you go, the tougher it gets.”
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