Sports

Red Sox drop opener to Rays, but COVID outbreak threatens long-term damage


Aug. 31—The Boston Red Sox flew to Tampa Bay expecting their toughest battle of the season. They just expected it to be against the first-place Rays, not COVID-19.

After avoiding the coronavirus for much of the year, the Red Sox are experiencing their worst outbreak of the season at the worst possible time. Boston was already without two players heading into the series, and by the time Monday was through another three players and three coaches were in quarantine due to either positive tests or close contacts.

As of this writing, second baseman Kiké Hernández, utility man Christian Arroyo and pitchers Martin Perez and Matt Barnes have reportedly tested positive and will be unavailable for at least the rest of the week. Relief pitcher Josh Taylor was identified as a close contact during the fifth inning of Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Rays and he will be in quarantine until further notice.

In addition, strength and conditioning coach Kiyoshi Mimose and quality control coach Ramon Vazquez have reportedly tested positive, and first base coach Tom Goodwin was identified as a close contact for the second time after having previously spent a week quarantining in Toronto.

More news could potentially be coming, and that unsettling possibility has the Red Sox walking on eggshells.

“I’m just tired, to be honest with you, to be thinking about it the whole time,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “The season part, all that stuff, that’s the easy part for me, but to have to deal with everything that has to do with this, it’s not easy.”

While the situation has improved significantly since 2020, COVID-19 remains an ever-present threat and now the Red Sox find themselves under siege at precisely the moment they needed to make a push. Undermanned and under the gun, the Red Sox looked completely overmatched in Monday’s series opener in Tampa, managing just one run on six hits in a game that felt more lopsided than the final score would suggest.

Now trailing the Rays by nine games in the AL East, the Red Sox are probably better off focusing on the Wild Card race at this point. Boston still leads Oakland by two games for the second Wild Card spot, but with three more tough games remaining against the Rays this week, the Red Sox will have to do everything they can to survive.

These were always going to be some of the most important games of the season, but with the COVID cases piling up, this series has become pivotal for much more ominous reasons.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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