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Red Sox Bullpen Slams Door To Notch Important Win Over Blue Jays

BOSTON (CBS) -- There are still question marks surrounding the Red Sox bullpen, as Boston manager Alex Cora is still figuring out the best way to piece it together each night.

But on Tuesday night, the bullpen once again locked down a much-needed victory for Boston. With the offense quiet, mustering just three hits and three walks, it was the bullpen that led the way to a 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a huge W over a divisional foe, on a day that the Red Sox really needed one.

Boston had Connor Wong behind the plate, with both Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki currently on the COVID-IL. After the win, Cora commented on the emotions in the Boston clubhouse before the game, and then likened the atmosphere of the game to a playoff tilt.

That had the manager aggressively using his bullpen to lock down the win. He used his four most reliable relievers thus far this season: Matt Strahm, Hansel Robles, Jake Diekman and Garrett Whitlock. They each did their part to shut down a potent Toronto offense.

"It felt like a playoff game and I managed it like a playoff game," Cora said after the win. "It was a heavy day for everyone and I managed for the win."

Cora had to turn to his mighty pen early, after the Blue Jays worked up starter Nathan Eovaldi's pitch count over 4.2 innings. With a runner on in the top of the fifth, Cora pulled Eovaldi after the righty's 95th pitch, and turned to Strahm. The long-haired lefty needed just four pitches -- all strikes -- to retire Toronto DH Zack Collins, catching him looking at a 91 MPH slider.

Strahm was back out for the top of the sixth, and needed just 11 pitches to retire the side in order. The newcomer now owns a 1.50 ERA over his first six appearances with the Red Sox.

Cora went with Robles for the seventh, and like Strahm, the righty made quick work of the three Blue Jays that he faced. Robles needed just 12 pitches to get three groundouts. After Boston took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh off a Wong sacrifice fly, Robles went back out for the top of the eighth and struck out Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. -- both looking.

Robles has allowed just one hit over his five appearances this season, which was back on Opening Day in New York. He got the win Tuesday night, joining the save and the hold that he'd notched in his previous two outings. Going back to last regular season, Robles has tossed 19 scoreless innings.

Cora turned to Diekman for the final out of the eighth, going with the lefty-lefty matchup against Collins. The DH singled to center to make things interesting, but Diekman made quick work of Matt Chapman, getting the third baseman to pop out four pitches later.

With Boston still clinging to its one-run lead in the ninth, it was Whitlock time. Usually, Cora would turn to Whitlock for more than three outs. But the playoff atmosphere of the game told him to turn to his best pitcher to slam the door on the Jays.

"I took a chance with Whit. It's not the perfect situation and we'd like to stretch him out. But where we were in the game and where it was, I felt like going to him," said Cora.

With no clear-cut closer in the bullpen right now, it's hard to argue with Cora's move on Tuesday. Whitlock gave his manager a three-up, three-down ninth inning to notch his first save of the year. Boston's Swiss Army Knife out of the bullpen even showed off his sliding ability on a 3-1 groundout, hustling to first and getting down on one knee -- rather awkwardly -- to scoop up a low throw by a sprawled-out Bobby Dalbec to get the inning's first out.

Whether he's been tasked to get three outs or seven outs, as he was in Saturday's win over Minnesota, Whitlock gets the job done for Boston. And on a night when the bats were nearly silent, the Red Sox needed everything they could get out of Whitlock and the rest of the relievers that Cora turned to.

The Boston bullpen now owns a 3.17 ERA and a .199 batting average against. The group ranks third in baseball with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

It's not always easy to piece together the perfect cocktail of relievers, and the bullpen as a whole is still very much a work in progress. But through two weeks, it has been the saving grace for the 6-5 Boston Red Sox.

"We're still learning. It's not easy," said Cora. "I've been saying all along that certain guys have to step up and hopefully [Matt] Barnes can get to where we want him to get and take over. [Wednesday] is a big day for the other guys. If we have the lead we have to use them because we were very aggressive today.

"But it's guys we trust and their stuff should be there," he added. "It's about executing and hopefully we can get more guys who start throwing the ball well. I think they're getting close; they're right there."

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