BOSTON -- The Red Sox bullpen looked like a packed rush-hour Green Line train. Crossing the clubhouse meant navigating a toppled Jenga stack of spare lockers. Forget about a magnifying glass -- the four-point type on the official roster required a scanning electron microscope.
"Are we having fun yet?!" Adam Scott's Henry Pollard asked plaintively on the Starz cult classic "Party Down", but in terms of virality, the final three weeks of the Red Sox season are taking on the feel of "Too Many Cooks," the Adult Swim earworm that parodied 1990s sitcom themes -- first by never ending, and then by leaving everyone in a pool of blood (don't ask).
Baseball plans to address the issue of September roster chum next year, when each team will only be able to carry three extra players. The Red Sox seem to be operating with a self-imposed 28-man limit, but just barely, and that is the embarrassing number of pitchers on the roster.
On Wednesday, they recalled four relievers they had already sent home for the winter, bringing the number of active arms to 21. That number again: TWENTY-ONE. That's every healthy pitcher on the 40-man roster except Double-A right-hander Denyi Reyes, who should probably keep his phone on vibrate, just in case.
While some teams might be ashamed to carry so many arms, the Red Sox have little choice. They refuse to concede, which means they need all the help they can get. Outside of left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, their starting pitchers are either injured (Chris Sale), ineffective (Rick Porcello), or nonexistent.
So, with a little more than three weeks remaining and the playoffs somewhere just shy of a pipe dream, Cora offers no apologies for the parade of pitching changes that will almost certainly be inflicted upon us for the rest of the month.
Boston Red Sox
Buckle up, and bring your traveling neck pillow.
"We're going winter ball style," Cora said. "That's how we're going to do it. The games, instead of four hours, they're going to be five hours. Keep the fans away from the..."
Cora's voice trailed off in recognition that even in jest, he probably shouldn't verbalize just how ugly the rest of the month could get. He knows this is a ridiculous use of the roster, but it is one afforded him by the rules, and the only alternative is to run his most effective relievers into a reef and watch them sink.
That's life on a team with horrible starting pitching. The Red Sox will try to bullpen their way to October, and that requires bodies. Lots and lots of bodies.
So on Wednesday, they summoned right-handers Colten Brewer, Trevor Kelley, and Mike Shawaryn, as well as left-hander Bobby Poyner, who had been freed to head home when the Triple-A season ended on Monday. They join a bullpen that already includes Jhoulys Chacin, Travis Lakins, Ryan Weber, and Hector Velazquez. Outside of the recently signed Chacin, that's a veritable Who's Who of pitchers you probably only vaguely remember, and not necessarily positively.
"We talked about it last night," Cora said. "Obviously, it's not perfect, but our starters are not giving us enough. We need matchups, we need arms, we're going to try to maximize Brewer's cutter and Shawaryn's slider and Bobby's fastball up and Kelley's side-arm pitches. We're trying to look for outs.
"Luckily I work in an organization that, we're not going to tap out, we're not going to wave the white flag and we're going to keep pushing," Cora added.
While the organization's motivation is entirely understandable -- ugly wins are wins just the same -- that doesn't mean we have to feel great about watching it. At a time when baseball should be selling the drama of pennant races, it instead shovels compost in our faces.
The Red Sox, who now run seven lines deep in the bullpen, will be leading that charge unapologetically, though in the 6-2 victory Wednesday night over the Twins, Cora still leaned on stalwarts Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Brandon Workman.
"The rules are the rules," Cora said. "Next year, you can't do that. It's probably not the first time that's ever happened in the game, so I don't feel bad about it."
The box scores are about to get crowded. Given the limitations of their roster, the Red Sox see no other options.
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