It had the making of one of those divisional rivalry dustups when Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora seemed to question how Orioles hitters seemed to know what was coming throughout a rocky performance by Red Sox ace Chris Sale on Monday night.
Cora said on his weekly radio show that the fact not a single Oriole struck out against one of the better strikeout pitchers in the league raised a “red flag,” prompting Orioles manager Brandon Hyde to express his disappointment that the Sox skipper didn’t give his team enough credit for an evening full of clutch at-bats.
“I’m not sure what he was getting at,’’ Hyde said before Tuesday’s game against Boston. “Obviously, pretty disappointed in hearing that. I thought it was disrespectful to our hitters, to be honest with you. I thought we had a great game plan. I thought we had major league hitters take really good at-bats.”
Cora, however, was quick to disavow any deliberate attempt to cast suspicion on anyone but Sale himself during Tuesday’s pregame press briefing. He never explicitly accused the Orioles of anything in either Monday night’s postgame press conference or the radio show and did hint that Sale might be tipping pitches.
He even made reference to his own part in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal as the reason why he was in no position to call out anyone else for cheating.
“The red flag is about tipping,’’ he explained. “It’s not about anything else … For me to accuse somebody of doing something wrong … I’m the last guy that can say that because I put myself in this situation in ’17. If he took it that way, I’ll talk to him right now and let him know, but it’s more about you have to check what’s going on.
“It’s a big league pitcher throwing 97 with a great slider and a good changeup with two swings-and-misses. That’s it. They’re doing an outstanding job. We know that. They covered the pitches up. They covered the pitch down. It wasn’t about pointing the finger at them … That’s not the case. I’m the last guy to accuse somebody … I was the guy suspended for what happened in 2017. I’m the last guy that can accuse somebody of doing something wrong.”
Perhaps the case can be made that Cora hinting that Sale was somehow giving away his slider also could be interpreted as failing to give the Orioles credit for a very resourceful performance at the plate. That seemed to be what Hyde was saying, though Cora did say postgame that the Orioles hitters did a good job.
“I loved our approach last night,’’ Hyde said. “I thought it was the best possibly since I’ve been here. Number 1 through 9 … nine-inning approach off a starter. I’m not really concerned what other people say about us, honestly, but I did find it disrespectful.”
Maybe Cora should have said that what the Orioles were stealing were not signs but a page out of the Red Sox playbook. Cora’s teams have long been known for their ability to extend at-bats and squeeze opposing pitchers, something the Orioles have been much better at over the past couple of years.