ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Alex Cora leaned against the bulwark all afternoon, either leaning on his elbows or swinging his arms like a bored middle school student. He looked calm. He sounded prepared.
His first opening day as manager of the big league had begun with a 9 o'clock journey to CVS for diapers and baby food.
"It's just a normal day, man," he said.
Hours later, as a catastrophic eighth inning unfolded, Cora regularly took out a bottle of water and occasionally stood with her hands on her hips. Joe Kelly had not struck, Carson Smith had not got a groundball, the bases were loaded, and Cora's thoughts were filled.
Even after leaving Ray's outfield Denar Span, the booming triple trio hit the Red Sox 6-4 yesterday, Cora stood to his decision.
That was not a situation for Craig Kimbrel, he said. Not so early in the season. Not if Cora's job is to get that team to the playoffs and run in a World Series.
"I know (Kimbrel) is ready," said Cora. "But we just do not feel like we should bring him in. It's not fair for him, it's just not … We have 1
Here's why Cora felt the eighth inning, with a four-run lead, was quickly disappearing, leaving no room for the only safe helper in his bullpen: Because it meant bringing him together with men on the base, where the pressure from the first pitch was extremely high, and it meant he kept him in the game for a multi-inning phase.
Kimbrel had spent most of spring training with his family in Boston to look after his newborn daughter Lydia when she was being treated for a heart condition. He had driven north, had appeared in two grapefruit league games in the south and had played a clean ninth inning in a safe situation.
But Cora liked the idea of throwing him into the fire. Not so early. Not after an unusual spring. Not if Kelly should be able to hit and Smith should be capable of a ground ball.
In two weeks? Could be. End of March? It's just not worth it.
"For what we want to achieve here, we need it in the long run, not just one on the opening day," said Cora. "If this situation arises, probably later – we'll talk about in 15 days or something like that or before, if he's really ready – he'll be in that situation."
Do not forget it was Cora, during the off-season, the possibility of using Kimbrel in non-saving situations. He seems to have accepted the idea. He is ready for it. He is the New Age manager who assumes massive shifts and analytical input.
But Cora said he spoke with Kimbrel pregame, and the decision was made then and there. Cora was not so caught up in the moment he changed his mind just to avoid that first loss.
Do you know what he needed at that moment? Someone else.
The Red Sox got the bat they wanted and they brought back the Utility Infielder they needed, but what if they neglect the late set-up man they absolutely must have ? Cora has many options and many different looks – Kelly's speed, Smith's sinking body – but apart from Kimbrel he has no certainty.
And he really needed a safe thing yesterday.
Span is a Left A handshit that hit just 0.226 against left-handers last season, but the only left-hander on the Red Sox is opening day Bobby Poyner, who never played double A. Cora favored Smith's countermeasure over Poyner's pulling advantage.
I will not take him to such a position, "Cora said. "I know he can get people out, but at this point we got him up just to see where we're going in this inning, but I think Carson was right, he's a guy holding the ball. We were looking for ground bullets. "
He did not understand, and so the Red Sox season began with a dud. It started with a new manager who made a decision and stuck to it. He needed Kelly to hit blows, needed Smith to limit the damage, or needed a better option in passing.
Cora had none of these things.
If this is a crucial moment, it will either be because of Cora's grip on his weapons, or because the Red Sox Bullpen still needs help.