Brock Holt was the hero for the Boston Red Sox in Tuesday’s win with a pinch-hit home run. Here’s why Alex Cora decided to use him in that spot.
He wasn’t in the starting lineup for the Boston Red Sox last night yet Brock Holt still had as much impact as anyone in the win against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Here’s the scenario. There was one out in the eighth inning of a game knotted at one. Rick Porcello‘s spot in the lineup was coming up in a National League park where pitchers have to hit. Instead, Alex Cora called for Holt to pinch-hit. The Brockstar rewarded his manager’s decision by sending the first pitch he saw, a 94 mph cutter, deep into the right-field seats. The Red Sox took the lead in a game they would ultimately hang on to win 2-1.
You may be thinking that pinch-hitting for the pitcher late in a tight game is a no-brainer. Typically that’s true yet there were factors that made Cora’s decision a bit more difficult.
For one thing, Cora doesn’t like to pinch-hit. Only three major league teams have used a pinch-hitter for fewer than the 40 plate appearances the Red Sox have tallied in that situation this year. Boston leads the majors in most offensive categories yet they are one of the worst at pinch-hitting with a collective .175/.267/.300 line.
Cora also had to weigh the decision of whether or not to pull his starting pitcher. Porcello had allowed only one run on two hits through seven innings. He was extremely efficient with 10 strikeouts without a walk and he had only thrown 90 pitches. Was scoring a run in that inning more important than squeezing another inning out of a pitcher who was dominating?
The choice of sending Holt to the plate in that spot was hardly obvious. The super-utility player entered the game with a mere 15 career home runs on his resume. He was 9-for-39 (.230) in his career as a pinch-hitter. Holt was also hitting a meager .169 since the break this season, so he wasn’t exactly hot coming into the game. The Red Sox were in dire need of an extra-base hit and Holt isn’t exactly the first guy you think of when looking for power.
Let’s not forget that Porcello doubled earlier in the game, his second extra-base hit in as many games in an NL ballpark. It was fair to question if the Red Sox were better off letting Porcello hit for himself.
The Phillies also had right-hander Tommy Hunter on the mound, whose reverse splits suggest a lefty bat wasn’t the way to go. Steve Pearce is known as a lefty masher but would still seem to be an ideal candidate in that spot. Not only does his bat have the power they needed but Hunter gives up a much higher batting average (.315) and OPS (.835) to right-handed bats.
So why didn’t Cora send Pearce to the plate? The manager explained his reasoning to reporters after the game.
"“It’s just a matchup and knowing they have the lefties probably for Mitch (Moreland) and Andrew (Benintendi). We decided to stay with Steve (Pearce) on the bench,” Cora explained, per WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “Hunter is a reverse splits guy, I think. But it felt good. I think he faced him the last time they were there. So he’s been swinging the bat well and we went with him.”"
So it was basically a gut feeling combined with the possibility that Pearce could be saved to hit for Benny or Moreland in the ninth if the Phillies sent in a lefty reliever.
The move paid off when Holt homered to give Boston the lead. The bullpen shut down the Phillies over the final two innings to ensure the decision to pull Porcello from the game didn’t backfire.
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It all worked out. However, we can’t help but wonder if the outcome would have been different if Cora hadn’t trusted Holt.
If Sandy Leon gets on to lead off the eighth inning does Porcello stay in the game to bunt him into scoring position? A Mookie Betts double would likely have scored the go-ahead run without the need for a home run.
Porcello then could have pitched the eighth but can we guarantee that he would toss another scoreless frame? Heath Hembree did.
What if Porcello hit for himself with the bases empty, or Cora turned to Pearce instead, only to make the second out of the inning? Betts would still hit a double but end up stranded at second base without a run scoring in that inning.
There’s a lot that could have gone wrong in this situation resulting in the Red Sox failing to score in that inning. The game probably goes to extra-innings in that case where the chance of walking away with a victory essentially becomes a coin flip.
Cora pulled all the right strings to ensure that didn’t happen. It may have seemed like an odd choice at the time but his gut feeling turned out to be the correct choice. The first year manager has been making plenty of correct choices this year, which is part of why the Red Sox have the best record in the majors.
At this point, shouldn’t we trust Cora’s decision making process? It won’t always pan out but he’s proven capable of getting it right far more often than not. Cora has earned the benefit of the doubt.