Mason: Alex Cora's now-or-never moves keep playoff hopes alive in Cleveland

The Red Sox took a series in Cleveland against one of the hottest teams in baseball. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Late Monday evening in Cleveland, it looked like the 2019 Red Sox season was knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door. 

Minutes after Xander Bogaerts drilled a game-tying double, Marcus Walden gave up a walk-off bomb in the bottom of the ninth, and the Sox let another game they should have won slip through their hands. It was their 12th loss in 15 games, and they’d fallen 8.5 games out of a Wild Card spot with 41 games to play. 

It seemed just about time for their last rites to be read.

That idea seemed further cemented when Alex Cora announced the Sox were planning on taking Nathan Eovaldi out of the bullpen to start him on Wednesday.

Removing a seemingly-crucial relief piece to stretch him back out as a starter would have been something of a white flag; it felt like a move to get ready for 2020. 

But then Tuesday night rolled around. 

With the Sox clinging to a 6-5 lead in the eighth inning, Josh Taylor got up in the bullpen — alongside Eovaldi. When the tying run moved into scoring position, Cora summoned his likely Wednesday starter into the game.

“We tried to stay away from him the whole time, but I thought that inning was probably — I don’t want to sound dramatic — but it was probably the biggest inning of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cora told reporters in Cleveland. “I decided, you know what, we’re all in now. Whatever happens tomorrow, happens tomorrow.”

Brandon Workman wound up blowing a save in the bottom of the ninth — nothing can come easily for these Red Sox — but after Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a go-ahead homer in the 10th, re-purposed starter Andrew Cashner earned his first career save, and Cora’s gamble had paid off for a night. 

After two futile weeks, the Sox finally had a win they could feel good about. 

“Our playoffs started earlier than other teams,” Cora affirmed. “If we want to make it, it should be like this every day.”

So how would the Sox respond in Wednesday’s getaway game after an all-in effort the night before?

Quite well, apparently. 

Cora stayed aggressive as could be in the series finale, yanking spot starter Brian Johnson in the third inning and asking six-plus innings from his bullpen. He used both Eovaldi and Cashner in relief again, and working their second game in roughly 18 hours, the two combined for three more shutout innings of relief. 

Somewhat ironically, Eovaldi, the supposed starter, was awarded the win by the official scorer. 

“What we did last year and everything, we were able to get in that playoff atmosphere,” Eovaldi told reporters at Progressive Field. “I think it’s been good for us. We need to get in that mentality and do everything we can to get there.”

“That first game was a tough loss,” Bogaerts said. “We could have easily folded. I think, bouncing back against these guys, that was huge and we should carry that momentum home.”

Finally finding some of that long-missing momentum, the Sox now have a real chance to build upon it. 

They only have one series against a winning team the rest of the month, and with a west coast trip littered with off days, Cora will be able to skip scuffling starters in the rotation and try to maximize their best arms. 

If there was ever a time to take off, it’s right now. 

“We’re about to find out, honestly,” Cora said. “We put ourselves in a bad position, but we understand that we’ve got a shot to make some ground. The season is not over, we’ve got a month and a half and we haven’t been hot, so we’ll figure it out. We’ve got a lot of off days and September is coming, too, so we just need people to get outs and keep moving forward.”

It’ll still take a heck of a run, but with a newfound tomorrow-be-damned mentality, maybe the Sox will go on one for the first time all season.

The talent has always been there. Now perhaps the desperation will be, too. There was certainly some coming from the visiting manager’s bench at Progressive Field. 

Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at cmason@northofboston.com, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason

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