BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, Saturday started with an uncomfortable benching of a key player. It ended with what looked like a walk-off hit instead turning into an agonizing, game-ending double play.
The final at Fenway Park was Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 4.
It was a chaotic and unsettling day for a Boston team that fell four games behind Toronto in the American League Wild Card standings and back into last place in the AL East.
At 2:07 p.m. ET, two hours and three minutes before the scheduled first pitch, Boston’s PR account tweeted a lineup change. Adam Duvall was in, and Alex Verdugo was out.
Two sources told MLB.com that Verdugo showed up roughly two hours before the game. Unless there is a late report time following a long road trip or a similar circumstance, players on MLB teams typically show up at least three hours before the game, and in most cases, earlier than that.
Cora and Verdugo both declined to say why the right fielder was pulled from the lineup.
Cora made no effort to conceal his anger.
“He didn’t play today. I decided not to play [him],” Cora said. “I think today, we took a step back as a team. We have to make sure everybody's available every single day here for us to get to wherever we're going to go. And that wasn't the case. And as a manager, I’ve got to take charge of this, and I decided he wasn't going to play.”
Asked if he arrived on time to Fenway on Saturday, Verdugo said, “Yes.”
What did Verdugo think about getting benched?
“It's a manager's decision, and I respect his decision,” Verdugo said. “He's the jefe. He's our coach. He's the head guy here. So for me, yeah I take responsibility. But at the end of the day, it's his decision. And, whether it hurt the team or helped the team today, we don't know. But I like to think that I help the team in different aspects. So for me as a player, I want to play. I want to be out there every day. And today was a little bit hard to watch.”
The ending of the ballgame was tough for every member of the Red Sox to watch.
In the midst of a furious ninth-inning rally in which Boston had already scored once to pull within a run, Connor Wong stepped up with two on and one out against reliever Erik Swanson and skied one to deep left-center.
Reese McGuire, the runner on second base, raised his hands in triumph, thinking Wong had just gone yard. But the drive seemed to die at the last moment, and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier jumped slightly to flag it down before it could glance off the Green Monster.
Red Sox third-base coach Carlos Febles also looked confused, waving McGuire around third. The game ended with McGuire easily getting doubled off second base.
“I couldn't believe it,” McGuire said. “I thought it was a home run or at least up off the wall. So that just tells you I got a bad read. Tough break right there. We had the momentum, putting together good at-bats against that guy there in Swanson, and I think we were gonna potentially walk it off, so it's a bummer of a way to go out.”
Cora called it a collective misread.
“I think we all missed that one,” he said. “I think Reese took off and then Carlos was looking at [Luis] Urías [running from first base]. Everybody thought it was going to be [at least] off the wall, and it was a bad play, a bad baseball play. All around, for us, we all thought it was gone.”
While the bitter end to the game was hard to swallow, Cora was clearly more upset by what happened before the game.
“I'm very disappointed,” Cora said. “This is probably one of my worst days here in this organization, because from day one, everybody has been available. We’ve had our issues, whatever, and we have taken care of our things. But today, we took a step back.
“I feel responsible, because I'm the leader of this team, and it's hard. But we'll show up tomorrow and we're gonna grind again, we're gonna go for it. But today, [I’m] very disappointed.”
Cora said there “is a chance” Verdugo will play Sunday.
No matter how hard the media pressed for an explanation, Cora chose to keep that private.
“The manager decided not to play him today, and he has his reasons,” Cora said. “I'm not gonna go into details or whatever, but I think it was enough.”