As Yankees Loom, the Red Sox Double Down on a Reliable Set of Arms

The Red Sox’s trick last fall was in letting their elite starters double as dominant relievers. Manager Alex Cora brought along the starters slowly last spring training — as he is doing again now — and the sweep of the Yankees in August allowed him to carefully manage their workloads down the stretch.

The result was a mostly fresh rotation, as Sale, Price, Porcello, Eovaldi and Rodriguez all appeared as both starters and relievers in the postseason. Eovaldi pitched in a setup role to help win Games 1 and 2 of the World Series in Boston, then threw 97 pitches in relief at Dodger Stadium in Game 3, an 18-inning Red Sox loss.

That was the rare moral victory that also had tangible benefits, galvanizing the Red Sox clubhouse around Eovaldi and crystallizing the starters’ selfless approach — even if they still don’t buy the hoopla.

“Ever since I was watching baseball as a kid, I’m watching Randy Johnson run out of the bullpen and pitch the eighth inning or whatever,” Porcello said. “As far as I’m concerned, I actually don’t understand the big deal around it, because that’s our job, and if we’re not here to sell out when we have the opportunity to win a World Series, then what are we doing?”

Cora absorbed the starters-as-relievers strategy in 2017 as the bench coach for Houston’s championship team. The Astros and Red Sox showed that the bullpen listed on a regular-season lineup card is not always the same as the one a team will use to win a title.

Dombrowski said it was presumptuous, with a long season ahead and the Yankees always looming, to plan on reprising that plan this October. But Cora is eager for an encore — knowing, perhaps, that it represents this roster’s best chance to repeat.

“It was fun to get text messages: ‘Hey, give me the ball tomorrow,’” Cora said. “It’s a testament to who they are, how they felt and what they wanted. I tell you, we get to October this year, I guarantee you it’s going to be the same thing, the same mode: ‘I’m there for you.’”

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