BOSTON — Manager Alex Cora is not yet ready to name his starting pitchers for Games 1 and 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.

Game 1 is Friday at Minute Maid Park. Cora plans to announce his Games 1 and 2 starting pitchers together, likely Thursday when the team works out in Houston.

“And then the rest of them (the starters) will be in the bullpen (for Games 1 and 2),” Cora said. “We’ve done it before that way. And that’s the way we’re going to do it. Those two games in Houston, they’re very important. We know what we want to do. We will have our starters be part of the bullpen in Games 1 and 2. And then we’ll decide what we do 3 and 4.”

Nathan Eovaldi is the most likely candidate to start Game 1.

Cora also would not say whether he plans to use struggling Chris Sale as a starter or reliever in the ALCS.

“He’ll pitch. Yeah, he’ll pitch,” Cora said, smiling. “He’ll be part of this and he’ll be an important part of this.”

Sale – who recorded just three outs in his Game 2 ALDS start against the Rays last Friday – threw a bullpen session before Game 4 of the ALDS on Monday at Fenway Park.

The lefty, who returned in August from Tommy John surgery, lasted just 21/3 innings in his final regular-season start at Washington. He gave up two runs, four hits and three walks.

He allowed five runs on four hits, including a grand slam, in the one inning he pitched against the Rays in the ALDS.

“For how much we look into stuff, sometimes we don’t find it and other teams find it,” Cora said. “But I do believe he feels good where he’s at. And he’s going to pitch some meaningful innings this series and hopefully in the World Series. And all this talk is going to be in the past.”

It might be more difficult for Cora to be as aggressive in the ALCS considering the schedule. The ALDS was five games with off days scheduled between Games 2 and 3 and Games 4 and 5.

The ALCS has an off day between Games 2 and 3. But then Games 3, 4 and 5 are all in Boston and will be played on consecutive days.

“We can be aggressive in Game 1 and 2,” Cora said. “Then after that, we’ll see where we’re at. We’ll see which route we go. But having guys that are able to bounce back is very important.

“We already saw it in this past series. Obviously you have to be careful. … One day at a time. We’ll take care of Day 1 first. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll take care of Day 2 and we keep on moving forward. The versatility of our guys will help us to maneuver our rotation and our pitching staff the way we want to be aggressive.”

LAUNDRY CART KEEPS ROLLING

It was the middle of the pandemic, the Red Sox stunk, and with major league ballparks empty in 2020, they couldn’t even count on the crowd to get them going.

During one especially humdrum road game at the Rays’ Tropicana Field, Coach Jason Varitek suggested they needed to put some fun back into the game.

The words had barely left his lips when Christian Vázquez hit a homer. So backup catcher Kevin Plawecki grabbed a nearby laundry cart, waited for Vázquez to return to the dugout, and told him, “Hey, hop in.”

“We hadn’t talked about it – nothing,” Plawecki said on Wednesday. “He sat right in, and I pushed him. And ever since it’s been our thing, I guess.”

Started on a lark in a last-place season, the Red Sox have continued the celebration this year and ridden it all the way to a spot in the AL Championship Series.

“It looked great in a difficult season for them to be able to find something that’s fun, and be able to celebrate something in the game,” Cora said.
“It means a lot for them. For them to have fun with that, that’s great.”

“Everybody’s got their own way of having fun. That’s what it’s all about,” Plawecki said in an on-field interview during batting practice at Fenway Park. “It’s not an ‘In your face’ to anybody. It’s just a way for us to have fun, keep it light.”

Boston’s cart is now a new, customized model that may never have been touched by actual laundry; it even had it’s own bobble head day (though the Red Sox will tell you that the giveaway honored J.D. Martinez, who was riding in it).

During the playoffs, infielder José Iglesias has taken responsibility for the “carrito,” and declared himself the official chauffeur.

Acquired too late in the season to be eligible for the playoff roster, Iglesias said he was happy to contribute in the dugout, since he can’t on the field.

“It’s a good way for him to stay involved with the guys,” Plawecki said. “I know it kills him to not actually be out there with us. He’s such a help for all of us.”

Plawecki said he had no regrets about giving up his cart-driving duties.

After all, the way the Red Sox are going, he needs to save his energy: Boston hit two homers in an AL wild-card victory over the rival Yankees and nine more in the four-game Division Series win over Tampa Bay – a franchise postseason record five of them in Game 2 alone.

“They kept me very, very busy,” Iglesias said. “And I hope I get busier over the course of the playoffs.”

UNDERDOGS AGAIN

The Red Sox are slight underdogs heading into this series against the Astros – who won five of their seven meetings this season, but that was back in June.

As they head back to the same place where they clinched a spot in the 2018 World Series, Cora woke up Wednesday morning with a realization of the possibility his team faces now after beating the top team in the American League.

“I woke up today and I was like, ‘We’re four games away from the World Series,’” Cora said. “We win four games and we’re right there. I always said that we have to keep working hard for what we have.

“The team that we’re going to face, they’re really good. They are. At the same time, they know we’re really good, too. When people start talking about us like that, it’s like, OK, we have something special going on here. But, we’ve got to keep working. We’ve got to keep getting better. We made some mistakes in this series that cannot happen again and that’s the way we see it. …

“But … yeah, I feel that we have a chance to win the World Series. … We feel good about where we’re at. We feel good about the team and now, we talk about … in 2018, you win 11 … and now we’re like, eight games, we need to win eight more games and we’ve done that before.”

DEADLINE SUCCESS

When the trade deadline came and went, with the Red Sox adding Kyle Schwarber and relievers Hansel Robles and Austin Davis, there was a notion that the first-place club didn’t do enough compared to its top competitors.

Evidently, that was also a feeling inside the Red Sox clubhouse.

“I think we were a little frustrated that we didn’t make more moves,” Eovaldi said Wednesday while appearing on a Boston radio station. “But picking up the guys we did, Schwarber was a huge pickup, we got Robles who’s been huge for us down the stretch, same with Davis.

“Schwarber, I think, has been the biggest one so far. The energy that he’s been able to bring into the clubhouse on a day-in, day-out basis … and once we got to the playoffs, we all clicked again.”

After the deadline, the Red Sox went 7-14 in their next 21 games as they fell out of first place, which put them on a track for the wild card for the rest of the season. But the deadline additions have certainly provided a boost.

Schwarber has been a centerpiece of the lineup, and Robles had a stretch of 17 consecutive scoreless appearances.


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