A borrowed bat in the hands of the right guy gave the Red Sox this win
PHILADELPHIA — A manager can lean on analytics to construct his lineup and most pitching changes are dictated by the situation and which relievers are available. But selecting a pinch hitter requires a touch of alchemy.
Do you want a contact hitter or a power hitter? Should you use your best available hitter right away or wait for a better situation that might never present itself? Will the opposing manager counter your move right away with a different pitcher?
Alex Cora readily admits it’s a part of the game he has yet to fully figure out in his first season as a manager.
But he made the right choice in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night when he sent Brock Holt up to hit for Rick Porcello.
Holt swung at the first pitch he saw from Tommy Hunter and drove it off a video board hanging on the second deck in right field. It gave the Red Sox a 2-1 victory.
It was the first home run by a Red Sox pinch hitter this season. Cora thought it was even worse than that.
“Was that our first [pinch] hit as a team? It felt that way,” he said. “We were probably 2 for 25 or something.”
It was actually 6 for 39 (.154) with 11 strikeouts. You get the idea; it had been bad when a hitter came off the bench.
In a season in which victories are coming at a record pace, this one will be remembered. It was the first pinch-hit home run of the season for the Sox and it came from a player who went to Cora in spring training to ask if his spot on the roster was safe.
On a team with the highest payroll in the game, Holt is one of the grinders, a hitter who almost always takes a pitch because he wants to wear the pitcher down.
But when Hunter left a cutter up in the strike zone, Holt swung a light gray bat he borrowed from Mookie Betts last week and crushed it.
Holt’s strategy this time was to swing at the first pitch he could handle.
“Not necessarily swing at the first pitch but just ready for a good pitch to hit,” Holt said. “Pinch hitting is a tough job to do. When your name’s called, just try and be ready and get a good pitch.”
Cora has encouraged several of his hitters to swing at the first pitch, but Holt has been slow to come around.
“We would love him to be more aggressive but obviously he’s a good hitter, he knows what he’s doing,” the manager said. “He’s a veteran.”
Holt maintained his composure until he rounded second base and was able to see the Red Sox dugout. He broke into a wide smile that continued as he bounced down the steps into what looked like a hopping bear hug from J.D. Martinez.
Holt has exaggeratedly hugged Martinez after nearly all of his 37 home runs this season for comic effect. Martinez was happy to return the favor.
“The guys were pretty excited,” said Holt, who had hit only two homers before that blast.
The home run gave the win to Porcello, who threw a near-perfect seven innings. His only mistake was giving up a home run to Rhys Hoskins in the fifth.
Porcello struck out 10 without a walk and gave up only one other hit. He also doubled in the third inning and nearly dug a trench with a headfirst slide.
“The slide was horrible,” Cora said. “I was glad that he went out and was able to pitch.”
The Sox also got a home run from another of their blue-collar players, Sandy Leon.
Craig Kimbrel also had a reassuring outing, recovering from a leadoff walk to retire three dangerous hitters in order to end the game and record his 36th save.
The 86-35 Sox are 7-1 on their road trip with one more game left here before they start a seven-game homestand on Friday. On the road, at home, close games, whatever the situation, they find a way to win.
“It’s a special team,” Porcello said. “I don’t know what else I can say.”
Holt left Citizens Bank Park wearing a jaunty pork pie hat adorned with a feather and a porcupine quill. It was an impulse purchase he made on Monday while walking around town with Andrew Benintendi.
“If the success continues, then we can say it’s the hat,” Holt said.
But whether Holt continues to wear his new lid could be in the hands of Lakyn Holt.
“She hasn’t approved yet, but she hasn’t seen me in person,” Holt said of his wife. “I think once she sees me in person she’ll like it.”