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Peter Abraham | On Baseball

As COVID ravages the Red Sox, their vaccination shortcomings are having real consequences

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has very little to work with as COVID continues to take members of the organization out of commission.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox have had eight members of their traveling party test positive for COVID-19 since leaving Fenway Park on Thursday night to start a road trip.

Two others are in quarantine after being in close contact with somebody who tested positive.

The Sox took the field against the first-place Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night without leadoff hitter Kiké Hernández, four key members of their bullpen, and two coaches.

All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts lasted one inning before he was pulled from the game after his most recent test came back positive. The Sox went on to an 8-5 loss.


Now nearly a quarter of their roster is made up of players who should be playing for Triple A Worcester.

It’s a product of the Sox having one of the lowest vaccination rates in the league.

“This is our reality,” manager Alex Cora said.

Most Sox players, coaches, and staffers understood the vaccine would help them stay healthy and protect their family, friends, and teammates.

Others decided their own feelings outweighed the advice of doctors who addressed the team.

They put themselves ahead of the group and the Sox never reached the 85 percent threshold required to be considered fully vaccinated by Major League Baseball.

It’s a boulder Cora has been trying to push over a hill for six months now. Now it has rolled back and flattened him as the Sox experience the worst outbreak in baseball this season.

The relentlessly upbeat manager looked drained after a 6-1 loss on Monday night.

Alex Cora takes the ball from Brad Peacock in the third inning of Tuesday's game..Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

“I’m just tired, to be honest with you,” he said. “To be thinking about it the whole time and to have to deal with this before a game and during a game, honestly that’s how I feel right now.”

Every time Cora’s phone buzzes, he hopes it’s not chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom or head athletic trainer Brad Pearson with more bad news.


Tuesday didn’t get any easier. Reliever Hirokazu Sawamura tested positive and that forced another roster move, the 14th in five days. Then it was learned that Bogaerts tested positive.

Bogaerts is among the best players in the game and the team leader. He will miss at least 10 days with the Sox only one game ahead of Oakland for the second wild card.

As the Red Sox dealt with their crisis, the Patriots released Cam Newton and decided Mac Jones would be their quarterback.

Newton is not vaccinated and missed five days of camp earlier this month after what was termed a “misunderstanding” of the NFL’s strict COVID protocols.

There is little chance Bill Belichick will discuss to what degree, if any, Newton’s vaccination status played a role in his release. But Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer acknowledged it was something he considered when making cuts.

How could you not? At this point every professional team must weigh the risk of keeping a player who isn’t vaccinated unless there’s a legitimate medical or religious reason.

The Red Sox are an example of how quickly the virus can plow through a team. When the Sox return to Boston on Thursday night, they will leave behind players and coaches quarantined in Cleveland and St. Petersburg.

You can’t blame Bloom. Vaccines weren’t yet available when the Red Sox put together their roster before spring training. It wasn’t until March when players became eligible.


But that won’t be the case in 2022. Talent is useless without reliability and executives will have to decide whether it makes sense to sign or trade for a player who won’t get vaccinated.

The alternative is what the Red Sox are enduring now.

Their starting pitcher on Tuesday was Brad Peacock, who was 0-4 with 7.94 earned run average in Triple A for Cleveland. The Sox traded for him on Monday and started him on three days’ rest.

Peacock allowed five runs over 2 ⅓ innings. The makeshift defense behind him didn’t help.

Hunter Renfroe and Yairo Munoz can't come up with this ball hit by Tampa's Yandy Diaz in the third inning of Tuesday's loss.Julio Aguilar/Getty

Even through a mask, Cora’s frustration was evident as he watched from the top step of the dugout. The Sox have defied preseason predictions and are in position to claim a wild card spot. Now their season is falling apart and there’s little he can do to stop it.

Cora took pride in the Sox scoring twice in the ninth and bringing the tying run to the plate. But how many more positive tests can they absorb, especially if the rotation is hit?

Since March, Cora has said being vaccinated is a personal choice and that should be respected. We’ve heard that message from managers and coaches from across team sports. It’s the politically correct thing to say.

But teams also have choices and at some point, unvaccinated players shouldn’t expect their roster spot will be waiting. Ask the Red Sox how that worked out.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.