By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
What made the 2018 Red Sox... well, the 2018 Red Sox.. was first-year manager Alex Cora's ability pushed all the right buttons.
And though The Cora Touch hasn't been as potent in 2019, with the Red Sox still chasing three teams in the American League wild card race, Tuesday's 5-4 final over the Rays at Tropicana Field came with a throwback feel.
Tied at 2-2 through six innings, Cora made the call to have Christian Vazquez summoned off the bench to pinch hit for Mitch Moreland to lead off the seventh inning. In an attempt to take advantage of Vazquez's rust, Rays lefty Colin Poche attacked the Boston catcher with back-to-back fastballs. The first, a 91 MPH, was fouled off. But the second one, clocked at 92 MPH, proved to be costly, as Vazquez sent it into the left field bleachers for his 16th blast of the year (and second pinch-hit homer of 2019).
— Red Sox (@RedSox) July 24, 2019
Boston added on another two runs, this time in the top of the eighth, when the Rays failed to tightrope their way out of pair of a bases loaded jams, with Andrew Benintendi grounding out to bring Rafael Devers home while Jackie Bradley Jr.'s hit by pitch brought in Boston's fifth and final run of the night.
It was enough of a cushion for the Sox bullpen to survive the night, with Brandon Workman recording five outs (on 44 pitches and with two runs allowed) before Marcus Walden was called into action to record the final out of the ballgame.
But the call to Vazquez wasn't Cora's only solid call in the win.
Sitting at 102 pitches through five innings, Cora easily could have pulled Sale after 15 outs. But Cora stuck with Sale for the sixth inning, and was successfully talked out of pulling the lefty-throwing ace by Sale himself, who rewarded Cora's faith when he successfully got Guillermo Heredia to line out to end the inning.
Sale finished the night with two runs allowed on four hits to go with 10 strikeouts on a season-high 116 pitches.
With the win, the Red Sox moved into a second-place tie with the Rays for second place in the American League East. It's the first time the Red Sox have been in second place in the division since March. The Red Sox are also tied with the Rays for the first spot outside the wild card race, trailing the A's by just two games.
Cora and Co. will go for the sweep in a 12 p.m. matinee at The Trop.