NEW YORK – The night the Red Sox dropped out of first place for the first time since March, the Yankees stormed back that night, giving the Sox a 9-6 defeat before a hostile and sold-out crowd, Alex Cora managed his best game so far.
That's the whole idea: Position the Sox as well as possible. Achieving Craig Kimbrel in the eighth inning has also achieved that goal. On a nightly basis, the manager's job is based on the process over the outcome. In a season with 162 games, results will often follow.
The closer the focus became, the more. Cora showed his best helper when it mattered most, with runners in the corners, a 6-5 lead and the top of the sequence that came in the eighth inning after Matt Barnes got into trouble. But Kimbrel dropped his fastball over the plate and was hammered. Brett Gardner threefolded the Amis by two and Aaron Judge followed with a screaming line trip to center for a two-run homer, a typical frozen rope that raced 117 mph out of the bat.
Red Sox's worst mistake – or her fans – could make it believe after Wednesday that the result invalidates the process. That Kimbrel, one of the greatest enthusiasts ever, should not be asked to pitch in the eighth inning in the future, because this time he did not do the job.
The Yankees are a scorching hot team. They have the best power hit team in the game.
The best plans can fall apart. But the plan of the Sox was right.
Kimbrel does not feel comfortable in the eighth inning, you say?
How come that any other helper in the bullpen can rise in various innings, somewhere between the fifth and eighth to extras, and still be expected to be successful, but not closer to the quote-unquote? Do you really believe that Kimbrel looks up and sees the # 8 on the scoreboard instead of the # 9 and turns into a pumpkin?
If you think highly about Kimbrel's ability, you understand that he is good because he has 96-97 mph fastball and a nasty turn. If he can cope with the pressure of the vaunted save situation in the ninth inning (with a lead of three runs), do not you think he can handle the game on the line with the pressure of another innings?  "Not at all," Kimbrel said when asked if he needed to adjust to eighth. "I have to come in and get out, no matter if it's the eighth or ninth inning, especially in those situations, like I said, I just did not do it."
Would he admit it? Complaints? Probably not. But logic confirms that: It's a guy in the batter's box. The job for the pitcher is to get him out. Every other helper does this job in different innings. Kimbrel is better than any other Sox helper.
Suppose the inning is something that actually affects Kimbrel. How big could an effect be? To the point that someone else in the Sox's pen is better equipped than he is or even close?
Kimbrel is not standing on the hill staring at the scoreboard, sobbing. He was ready for the eighth inning. He was informed ahead of time who he, Brett Gardner, would bring, and he was not crowded. (It does not take long to warm.) Cora hoped there would not be more than one runner on the base and two outs when Gardner arrived.
Kimbrel does not feel comfortable with the traffic, you say?
There is actually little room for error with runners on the base. Kimbrel is a pitcher. He always strives for strikeouts and probably does more when there are runners. Hitters are not as likely to expand as they are in the ninth inning.
"Especially with a runner on the third, there is definitely a smaller margin of error," said Kimbrel Wednesday. "That's where I did not want to put the ball [Gardner] in. He tried to beat him and could not do it."
Maybe this is an area that Kimbrel can grow without trying to fool people. But he has always been like that.
Again, it's the best option the Sox have for runners. Or in any situation. His fastball does not drop to 88 mph or 93 mph because someone dances off third base. He is not so mentally weak that he sees a Runner on the third base and the Cowers and forgets how he ascends.
If you have to adapt something to runners on the base, be it. Ask the team's biggest helper to adjust. Ask him to prove his excellence in a way that goes beyond this supply of 300 traditional parades. He does not fling his curveball after 40 feet because, oh heaven, there is traffic.
You're okay with a smaller pitcher that comes with runners on base, but not the best you have?
Kimbrel is too good for being trapped behind the door of tradition. He does not have to be petted with clean innings. Cora knows that – the competitor in Kimbrel must know it too – and neither the pitcher nor the manager should forget about Wednesday's result.
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