Word came down to manager Alex Cora in the third inning of the win Wednesday over the Braves that he, along with vaccinated players and coaches, had Major League Baseball’s permission to go without their masks in the dugout.
Cora didn’t need to hear anything else.
“They asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’” he said. “I didn’t even answer. I just grabbed it and threw it away.”
Baseball earlier this week updated its COVID protocol restrictions, allowing fully vaccinated players and staff to go maskless in clubhouses, dugouts, and bullpens.
Cora admitted before Friday’s 5-3 loss at Kansas City he had to adjust after going so long with a face covering.
“It was different, to be honest with you, very different,” Cora said. “Now, I’ve got to be careful what I say, right, because the camera’s right on me. With a mask, it was easy just to say what I wanted to say and nobody noticed it. But it feels like the outside world right now. It feels normal.”
The relaxed policy was another step toward a new normal. Vaccinated players and coaches can also eat at restaurants and attend other sporting events with no restrictions. Cora said even though the restrictions have been loosened, there is still an onus on players and staff to be responsible.
“There are certain things that we’re going to keep doing as far as testing,” Cora said. “It’s more relaxed now and all that. But obviously, with us having families and being away from families and being in this environment, we’ve got to be responsible.
“From my end, I will keep getting tested as scheduled, because obviously, I’ve got everybody back home and I don’t want them to get sick.”
The Sox are among eight teams who still haven’t reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold required by the league to relax COVID protocols. Last month, Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said it was “frustrating,” but respected “differences of opinion.”
Cora said there are considerations the team still has to keep in mind because everyone isn’t vaccinated.
“You’ve got to be smart, too,” Cora said. “It’s not that now, you just can do whatever you want. There’s still a few things that we cannot do because we’re not at 85 percent. But it feels a lot different.”
Cora added that there are still ongoing conversations and daily reminders about best practices for everyone’s health and safety.
“We’ve been so good so far that it’d be it’d be very irresponsible if all of a sudden because we can do this, then we put the whole group in a bad spot,” Cora said. “You don’t want to be the guy that you test positive and you’re out for 10 days and then somebody that is a close contact is out for five or 10 days. You don’t want to do that. So we’ll still remind guys that we’ve got to keep doing the things that we’ve been doing for a while and hopefully it works.”
Spare the sticky stuff
The league made clear its intentions to crack down on pitchers who are caught using foreign substances. The commissioner’s office announced the penalty for doctoring balls will be a 10-game suspension. Umpires will begin checking regularly starting Monday.
“We’ll talk about the rules and the situation we’re in and the situation where the league is, and we’ll move forward,” Cora said. “I think the message is loud and clear. Everybody’s talking about it. They watch games, and they understand. . . . So it’s just another reminder. We’ve been reminding our group for a while what’s going on and what we have to do.”
The Sox have an off day Monday, and Cora said that will give them a chance to see how the inspections play out across the league.
“We have the best seat in the house on Monday,” Cora said. “So we’ll be watching a lot of games and see how it goes. They’re going to do their job. They’re going to check on the starters. They’re going to check on the relievers. They’re going to check on the catchers.
“So if that’s considered tough, well, that’s the way the league wants it. And that’s the way it’s going to be. So we’ve just got to see how players are going to react or when they’re going to do it. We just have to wait and see. But like I said, Monday is a perfect day for us to sit back and watch games and learn from the whole situation and be ready for Tuesday.”
Another positive step for Chris Sale
Chris Sale threw a 40-pitch bullpen with the Worcester Red Sox. Cora said Sale told him he wanted to treat the session as if he were going through a normal start.
“Where I was a few months ago,” Sale told reporters in Worcester, “this means the world to me. I’m more appreciative than ever about what I do and how I do it.”
“It was a good one,” Cora said. “It was kind of like he was warming up for a game. Just his regular routine for a start. Did that, came back, sat down for a little bit, and then he threw one ‘inning.’ ”
Head athletic trainer Brad Pearson was in Worcester to monitor Sale, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery in March 2020.
“Everything went well,” Cora said. “They feel very comfortable with the way he threw the ball, and obviously his mechanics and all that. So just another step in a long process. We try not to get too excited because we’ve got to be patient, but at the same time, we are allowed to get excited because this guy is progressing the way we envision and we know he’s going to be a big part of what we are trying to accomplish later on in the season.”
“I can’t set my sights too far. That’s not good for anybody in this process,” Sale told reporters. “I’m happy with what we did today. Going to get my work in, and come back tomorrow and start all over again.”
Pearson was also in Worcester to keep tabs on Tanner Houck, who threw three scoreless innings Thursday for the WooSox. Houck threw 45 pitches and notched six strikeouts.
“That was pretty solid,” Cora said. “And today, he showed up to the ballpark and everything was good.”
Pearson will be among the Sox representatives at baseball’s first draft combine next week in North Carolina. The Sox have four of the first 105 picks in the July 11 draft, including the fourth overall selection.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.