Alex Cora felt compelled to pump up Red Sox after latest loss, and maybe this is why

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Tomase: After latest loss, Cora told team what it needed to hear originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

What a manager says after a win or loss is often less compelling than why he said it.

And following Thursday's 1-0 defeat to the Rays, Alex Cora gave us plenty to ponder.

Perhaps sensing the tidal wave of "worst loss of the season" takes that felt justified after the Red Sox took a no-hitter into the eighth, only to lose in the ninth on a walk-off wild pitch, Cora forcefully halted that line of questioning.

"I've got to be honest with you," Cora said via Zoom. "A lot of people, they didn't believe in this team before the season. I think the way we played against these guys tonight shows how good we are. We have a lot of work to do. We know that. But we belong in the conversation. We're really good. It's going to be a fun summer in Boston."

Cora's timing was fascinating, and he clearly came on the call planning to say what he said as soon as he could say it. The question is why.

He obviously wanted the team to hear it. Is that because he's sensing doubt in his own clubhouse? Is it to maintain a sense of confidence with a big series looming this weekend against the Yankees? Is it because he recognizes that the club hasn't played particularly well over the last 15 games, a flair for the dramatic allowing it to salvage a 7-8 record in that span?

There's a perception that the Red Sox have played over their heads, and if nothing else, their starting rotation is clearly thudding back to earth. Cora's job is to keep his players focused and motivated for 162 games, and on Thursday night he had the option of the carrot or the stick. He chose the carrot.

The stick was certainly in play, especially after the Red Sox ran into two pivotal outs in the seventh inning, first when Hunter Renfroe slipped rounding third and was erased at the plate on a perfect throw from Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, and then when catcher Christian Vazquez was inexcusably picked off second one batter later.

They also committed a pair of errors, Michael Chavis booting a grounder in the seventh that hastened the departure of starter Nick Pivetta in the midst of a no-hitter, and Vazquez's wild throw to second that allowed Manuel Margot to steal the bag and then take third before scoring on a Matt Barnes curve in the dirt to end it.

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Baserunning mistakes and a failure to turn routine balls into outs have been ongoing concerns, and there will certainly be times that Cora denounces them.

Thursday was not that night, which brings us back to the question of why. Here's my guess: his players are hitting a wall and he's trying to coax them over it. The Red Sox played two high-intensity games with the Rays (sandwiching a noncompetitive loss) that felt like playoff tilts. They still lost two out of three.

Their pitchers are dealing with the new reality of having the illegal-substance rules enforced, and right-hander Garrett Richards, in particular, sounds broken. Meanwhile, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez continues to struggle. The rotation feels like it's hanging by a thread, perhaps until Chris Sale returns in August.

We're not even halfway through the season, and an absolute gauntlet looms to start the second half, when the Red Sox open with 18 straight games against the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays. They'll play 24 games in 29 days against those three squads, their only break a three-game set with the Tigers.

As well as the Red Sox have performed to reach this point in the standings, just a half game behind Tampa, they're going to perpetually be a bad week away from fourth place for the next month and a half.

That's a lot of pressure, and it's unrelenting. Cora knows what's coming. He knows how quickly it could crumble. He knows what his team needed to hear.