The Red Sox’s trick last fall was in letting their elite starters double as dominant relievers. Manager Alex Cora brought along the starters slowly last spring training — as he is doing again now — and the sweep of the Yankees in August allowed him to carefully manage their workloads down the stretch.
The result was a mostly fresh rotation, as Sale, Price, Porcello, Eovaldi and Rodriguez all appeared as both starters and relievers in the postseason. Eovaldi pitched in a setup role to help win Games 1 and 2 of the World Series in Boston, then threw 97 pitches in relief at Dodger Stadium in Game 3, an 18-inning Red Sox loss.
That was the rare moral victory that also had tangible benefits, galvanizing the Red Sox clubhouse around Eovaldi and crystallizing the starters’ selfless approach — even if they still don’t buy the hoopla.
“Ever since I was watching baseball as a kid, I’m watching Randy Johnson run out of the bullpen and pitch the eighth inning or whatever,” Porcello said. “As far as I’m concerned, I actually don’t understand the big deal around it, because that’s our job, and if we’re not here to sell out when we have the opportunity to win a World Series, then what are we doing?”
Cora absorbed the starters-as-relievers strategy in 2017 as the bench coach for Houston’s championship team. The Astros and Red Sox showed that the bullpen listed on a regular-season lineup card is not always the same as the one a team will use to win a title.
Dombrowski said it was presumptuous, with a long season ahead and the Yankees always looming, to plan on reprising that plan this October. But Cora is eager for an encore — knowing, perhaps, that it represents this roster’s best chance to repeat.
“It was fun to get text messages: ‘Hey, give me the ball tomorrow,’” Cora said. “It’s a testament to who they are, how they felt and what they wanted. I tell you, we get to October this year, I guarantee you it’s going to be the same thing, the same mode: ‘I’m there for you.’”