COVID-rattled Sox fall to TB: 'Keep grinding'

August 31st, 2021

In the not-so-distant past, the Red Sox earmarked this four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field as one that could be key to their chances of winning the American League East.

But by the time the Sox got to town on Monday, their mindset had shifted to “survival mode” due to how depleted the roster has become in recent days.

After a 6-1 defeat to the red-hot Rays, it has become blatantly clear to Boston that its playoff hopes will rest on the AL Wild Card race and not the division.

Manager Alex Cora’s team dropped to nine games behind the Rays with 29 to go. The Wild Card, fortunately, is a different story, as the Sox are currently in possession of the second spot -- two games in front of Oakland.

“We still have a good team. We’re in position to make the playoffs,” said Cora. “We know there will be guys coming back. I don’t know when, but they will come back. The way I see it: keep grinding, keep going.”

In truth, Boston’s biggest concern right now is containing the spread of COVID-19. Relievers and were the latest to test positive on Monday, joining position players Kiké Hernández and Christian Arroyo on the shelf indefinitely due to the unrelenting virus -- which Cora often refers to as an invisible enemy.

For the Red Sox, it feels more visible than ever at the moment. First-base coach Tom Goodwin was put into contact tracing shortly before first pitch on Monday. During the game, lefty reliever Josh Taylor was identified as a close contact and he won’t pitch again in this series. Cora revealed after the game that quality control coach Ramón Vázquez tested positive.

Meanwhile, strength and conditioning coach Kiyoshi Momose remains confined to a hotel room in Cleveland after his positive test on Sunday. Hernández and Arroyo are also stuck in Cleveland indefinitely.

“I’m just tired, to be honest with you, to be thinking about it the whole time and have to deal with this before a game and during the game and all that,” Cora said. “Honestly, that’s how I feel right now. The season part, all that stuff, that’s the easy part for me. To have to deal with everything that has to do with this, it’s not easy. I love to prepare for a game the easy way. Look at video, talk to hitters and pitchers and all that.”

Unfortunately, Cora has had too many discussions the last few days that have had zero to do with baseball.

“It was a lot tougher today than yesterday. Yesterday was tougher than the day before,” said Cora. “Hopefully tomorrow we’re OK. ... That’s what I pray for -- for this to be the end of it. And then it’s all about baseball -- making plays, putting the ball in play, pitching, all that stuff. This part is not comfortable, it’s not easy. But like I said on Feb. 10, it was one of my biggest fears, and it still is.”

As a leader, Cora knows that his job is to help his team come out of this rough patch.

“It’s part of life. I’ve been saying it all along. It’s not easy,” said Cora. “But it’s not only happening here, it’s happening all over the world. That’s the way I see it. I’m just glad the people who tested positive feel OK. They’re going to be OK. On the professional side of it, we just have to keep grinding. Nobody is going to stop the tournament because we have X amount of cases and X amount of guys in close contact. They’re not going to stop this.”

Once Monday’s game started, the Sox -- who had won two out of three in their previous three series -- tried to get the virus out of their minds and put together a win. But Brandon Lowe hit ’s first pitch of the game over the fence, and Boston trailed most of the way. belted a solo homer in the second to tie it momentarily, but the bats were silent thereafter.

Pivetta grinded through five innings (plus two batters in the sixth), throwing 108 pitches while walking five (one intentional) and striking out six.

By the end of a long Monday, the Red Sox were ready to flush a nondescript loss away in hopes that Tuesday will be more normal.

“It’s all going to come down to [handling] adversity,” said Pivetta. “There’s no room to really let that affect us in any way. We just have to go out and play baseball. That’s what it comes down to. Once you get out on that field, everything else is kind of white noise and you focus on the task at hand.

“Obviously, everybody is concerned about the players. I’ve heard that they’re doing good. They’re low on symptoms. Hopefully everybody comes out well and they can rejoin us as soon as possible when we need them.”