Red Sox

A refreshing change from 2017: Cora admits a mistake

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A refreshing change from 2017: Cora admits a mistake

BOSTON -- Accountability Alex is in full affect, painting a new image for his club and helping his players as he goes.
 
The Red Sox manager on Tuesday afternoon acknowledged something the 2017 Red Sox seemingly never did: a mistake. He noted a flat-out lapse in judgment in a particular moment from Sunday's game. 

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Cora should have pulled J.D. Martinez from left field for a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. Jackie Bradley Jr. was on the bench, the Sox had an 8-7 lead and Craig Kimbrel was on the mound.
 
But the bottom of the eighth inning was pretty wild as the Sox erased a five-run deficit.
 
"Honestly -- I'm going to be honest with you," Cora said. "We scored six runs, and we were so excited about it, and the manager missed that one."
 
Woah. No song and dance? Cora was later asked why he was being so honest.
 
"Because I did. Why lie, you know?" Cora said. "It happens. Everybody saw it. I think I ask our guys to be genuine, transparent and responsible. So, if I'm asking them to be that way, well, I better be that way. Because if I say something else, they know I'm not telling the truth."
 
Refreshing as a sip of Zima. In Game No. 9 as a big-league manager, Cora made a mistake, and he publicly identified it. Heck, Gabe Kapler has probably made it impossible for Cora to look bad anyway.
 
Cora said from the outset of his time with the Sox he wasn't going to change his approach, and after 2017, it was clear the Sox needed Cora to follow through to that end.
 
Whether Cora realizes it or not, there's a ripple effect when he takes the stage as he did Tuesday. He pulled the conversation, and any pressure that comes with being a part of the conversation, away from the players and onto himself. You can call that the Tito Special.
 
Instead of a discussion with the media about Martinez's subpar play in left field Sunday, as could have cropped up, Cora's pregame session veered toward the skipper. And he steered it there, whether he meant to or not. The manager does not control the questions, but he does seem to understand what the public, the media and the fans, generally want to hear -- and serving it appears a genuine response. And when the media hears something interesting about the manager -- like an admission of fault -- the media typically follows that thread.


 
PINCH RUN?
 
There was one other move Sunday that was a little puzzling: Choosing not to pinch run for Christian Vazquez with Blake Swihart in the eighth inning. The latter is certainly faster. Vazquez scored the tying run in the eighth inning on a Mookie Betts single as the Sox stormed back, but a better throw home probably nails Vazquez.
 
"He's one of our best base runners out there," Cora said. "He's not the fastest one, but his secondaries are a lot better than a lot of guys that we have and he has a sense of the game. Where they were in the outfield, that was probably, you know, I don't think there was going to be a play. With two outs and you go with the swing, he was going to get a good jump and score."
 
Speed is still what matters most, so Cora's explanation may have been missing a piece. Did Cora feel comfortable with Swihart catching in the ninth inning, or would he have had to then turn to Sandy Leon and leave no catchers on the bench? That's unclear. But, unlike the choice to leave Martinez in the outfield, leaving Vazquez in was by design.

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It's time to admit the obvious - Dustin Pedroia looks like he's finished

It's time to admit the obvious - Dustin Pedroia looks like he's finished

NEW YORK -- The reeling Red Sox lost in horrible fashion again on Wednesday, Ryan Brasier surrendering a go-ahead grand slam to Brett Gardner in a 5-3 loss that leaves them a staggering 8.5 games behind the Rays in the AL East.

But let us take a break from our nightly bash-fest to focus on the inevitable, melancholy turn the game took in the second inning and what it means in the big picture for one of the most storied figures of our post-2004 renaissance.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia flied out to right to drop his average to .100 and then did not take the field. The Red Sox removed him because of soreness in his surgically repaired left knee, puncturing the myth perhaps once and for all that he will be a meaningful contributor this season. If ever.

After appearing in just three games last season, Pedroia lasted six this time around, and though no one's closing the door on his return, it's time to face reality.

The surgery didn't work. Pedroia's career might effectively be over.

Given the fearlessness with which he played in his heyday and the serious injuries he overcame -- including dings and dents to his hands and wrists, the lifeblood of any hitter -- it's amazing he lasted as long as he did.

From Rookie of the Year to MVP to World Series champion, all within two years, Pedroia, who turns 36 in August, is destined to occupy a space near Nomar Garciaparra in franchise lore as the superstar whose flame burned at an intensity his body simply could not endure.

A three-time All-Star, an MVP and a Gold Glover by age 26, Pedroia has made just one All-Star team in the eight years since, a streak that will soon reach nine. He gutted through a thumb injury to lead the American League in plate appearances in the world championship 2013 campaign, and three years later he delivered his last great season, hitting .318 and scoring 105 runs before undergoing offseason knee surgery.

The Red Sox seemed willfully blind to his limitations this winter in ways that even Pedroia himself was not, unrealistically banking on him to play 125 or 130 games when it was clear to anyone with two eyes that Pedroia's cartilage restoration procedure had left him diminished.

It's certainly not Pedroia's fault that the front office chose not to sign a backup second baseman, counting instead on the duo of Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez. But with Holt (scratched cornea) on the injured list and the perpetually creaky Nunez hitting just .159 while battling a sore back, second base suddenly resembles that grainy orange image of a black hole NASA just released.

The Red Sox should've been able to see this coming, given the experimental nature of Pedroia's surgery, the fact that it limited him to three games last year, and the similar struggle to stay healthy befalling knuckleballer Steven Wright, who also underwent the procedure.

But they didn't, and so here we were, watching Pedroia shuttle between DH and the field, unable to play his position with any regularity. His exit from a game under circumstances exactly like Wednesday's was coming sooner rather than later, and everyone knew it, including deep down I'm sure, Pedroia.

And so, he will undoubtedly do everything in his power to return yet again, it's not too soon to start viewing him like Pedro Martinez or David Ortiz, Red Sox greats whose careers reside in the past tense.

While some will argue Pedroia never should've been offered an eight-year contract through 2021, given his size and injury history, it's not like he didn't earn every penny of his relatively modest (these things are relative) $110 million extension.

He took some heat for signing that deal in the middle of the 2013 season, because it was considered below market for an All-Star in his prime. But Pedroia had a ready-made retort anytime anyone broached the subject.

"Are you kidding me?" he once told me. "I'm rich as f---."

Those of us who got to watch the Laser Show in his prime every day from 2007-2013 considered it a privilege. Watching him leave the game on Wednesday with a grimace is no way for his career to end, but if we're being honest with ourselves, it's hard to envision a Red Sox future that includes him.

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And it's Ryan Brasier's turn to spin the wheel of despair in another awful Red Sox loss

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And it's Ryan Brasier's turn to spin the wheel of despair in another awful Red Sox loss

NEW YORK -- Ryan Brasier had Brett Gardner right where he wanted him, and then all he could do was turn around and grimace.

Summoned with the bases loaded and the Red Sox clinging to a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning of what felt like a must-win game on Wednesday, Brasier raced to an 0-2 count on the slumping Yankees veteran with a pair of sliders before deciding to come back with a fastball.

In his 12-year career, Gardner had homered just twice on 0-2 counts. This time, though, he lashed Brasier's fat 96 mph offering over the right fence for a game-breaking grand slam that rallied the Yankees to a 5-3 victory that leaves the Red Sox once again wondering what hit them.

If it's not the starting pitching, it's the offense. If it's not the offense, it's the bullpen. If it's not the bullpen, it's the defense.

It's always something, and on Wednesday it was Brasier.

"Had a plan to go after him, got him right where I wanted to get him, and I didn't execute a pitch," said Brasier, who joined fellow reliever Brandon Workman in wasting an excellent start from Nathan Eovaldi. "Nate did a hell of a job tonight. Bullpen guys, it's our job to come in and get outs and hold the lead and I made a bad pitch on a good count for me and it bit me in the butt."

The Red Sox have no strengths so far this year, but the back of the bullpen had kind of been one of them. Brasier entered the game with three saves and a 1.17 ERA in eight outings, pairing with Matt Barnes (1.42 ERA, 17.1 K/9) to give the Red Sox some stability in the final innings, not that the Red Sox have found themselves protecting too many leads.

But it's one of the stories of this season that the reliable can suddenly become unreliable at the worst moments.

"We've still got to finish off games," said manager Alex Cora. "We didn't. it takes everybody to get out of this. Today, in the seventh inning, we didn't do a good job."

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