ST. PETERSBURG -- COVID-19 has been taking swings at the Red Sox throughout a road trip that started in Cleveland before continuing to St. Petersburg.
But the hardest hit came in the middle of Tuesday night’s 8-5 loss to the Rays, when shortstop Xander Bogaerts was pulled to start the bottom of the second inning due to a positive test result.
Bogaerts, the longest-tenured player on the Red Sox and generally regarded as the team leader, is the sixth Boston player to test positive for COVID-19 since Friday.
It was a swift turn of events for Bogaerts, who put the Red Sox on the board with an RBI single to right in the top of the first on Tuesday night. He then fielded his position in the bottom of the first.
After that, his night was over.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Red Sox looked discombobulated shortly after the exit of their de facto captain, allowing six runs in a sloppy bottom of the third. After that, they gathered themselves and had the tying run at the plate with two outs in the ninth.
“It’s tough, but you know what? I was just telling them, we played until the end today. We put [up] good at-bats. We had the tying run at the plate,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “The pitching staff did a good job after the bad inning. We were able to do a few things pitching-wise. We reset our bullpen. We played sloppy baseball for a little bit, but the effort was there until the end.”
It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox will weather the storm until they get their best all-around player back. Players who test positive for COVID-19 are generally required to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days. The quarantine can be a little shorter for vaccinated players, though that hasn’t been common. It isn’t known if Bogaerts is vaccinated.
“Bogey is such a consistent presence,” said Kyle Schwarber, who belted his third home run since joining the Red Sox. “He’s the most tenured guy here, correct? He’s been around here and he’s been through multiple postseason pushes, multiple World Series championships. We’ll definitely miss his presence. We’re all going to have to step up [while he’s out] and all the guys that are down right now. We’ve got to do it.”
To put it mildly, it has been a difficult five days for the Red Sox.
Prior to Friday’s opener of the road trip, the Sox announced that leadoff man Kiké Hernández, who had been red-hot for two months, tested positive. That same day, infielder Christian Arroyo was deemed a close contact, and he tested positive on Sunday.
The timing of those two middle infielders being down at the same time as Bogaerts couldn’t be worse for Cora, who will try to find a way to piece winning lineups together. Shortstop and second base are both glaring holes at the moment.
“We've got to keep going,” said Cora. “Like I said yesterday and I'm going to keep saying it, they're not going to stop the tournament for the Red Sox, we know that. We've got to figure this out, show up tomorrow, play good baseball, do it the next day, and then go home, and see where we're at.”
As bumpy as things were on the medical front during the three-day stay in Cleveland last weekend, things have been worse since the Sox arrived at Tropicana Field for a four-game series that started Monday.
Lefty reliever Josh Taylor was deemed a close contact in the middle of Monday’s game, making him a seventh player -- and fourth member of the bullpen -- who will be away from the team for the foreseeable future.
“I think the biggest concern is just the health of the individuals,” said Schwarber. “This is no joke, it’s [something to] take seriously. You just hope that it’s a light case, that they’re not feeling it super hard, and that they recover quickly. That’s kind of the biggest thing on everyone’s mind is the well-being of all the guys.
“It’s the invisible enemy. It sucks. But we have to keep moving forward and keep putting our best foot forward. We’re in the middle of this thing and it’s the next man up mentality right now. Just got to keep moving forward.”
With 28 games left in the season, the Red Sox (75-59) are in possession of the second American League Wild Card spot by one game over the A’s. The squads are even in the loss column.
For the Red Sox, the key will be to find a way to stay in the race over these next seven to 10 days until they get some reinforcements back on the roster.
“It's just a matter of what we are going to do in the upcoming days just to slow this down, not only off the field, but on the field,” said Cora. “How are we going to try to 'attack this?'”