Just Like Their Manager, the Red Sox Keep Coming Back

email:


Gabriel & Co. fine jewelry

Some year-long suspensions are better than others. The suspension Major League Baseball levied on Alex Cora, for example, could not have been imposed at a more convenient time.

After Cora played a principal role in the Astros’ illicit sign-stealing caper of 2017, M.L.B. suspended him for the entire 2020 season. The Boston Red Sox let him go, even after he had led the team to a World Series championship in 2018 with a flawless and at times brilliant postseason managerial run.

email:

To then be exiled was humiliating and caused anguish for his family. But in terms of baseball, all Cora missed was 60 rotten Red Sox games. For four months of his suspension, he shared the same fate as virtually everyone else in baseball: At home in lockdown as the world waited for the coronavirus pandemic to end.

When baseball returned in July, it was for an abbreviated season, and Boston spent only the first day of it above .500, finishing last in the A.L. East under Ron Roenicke, Cora’s unlucky place holder.

Still, the fallout and emotional scars of Cora’s poor judgment were perhaps not fully realized publicly until after Boston’s American League division series upset over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. During the celebration at Fenway Park in Boston, Cora hugged and kissed his daughter, Camila, and appeared to wipe tears of joy and relief from her eyes — and his — then hugged her some more.

Image

Credit…David Butler Ii/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Cora acknowledged in an on-field interview with Fox Sports that Camila and his entire family had suffered considerably during the previous year because of his misdeeds. It was his fault, he said, resulting from a “horrible decision” to partake in the sign-stealing scheme when he was the Astros’ bench coach.

“For those that think it’s in the past, no, we live it every day,” Cora said on Thursday. “I live it every day. We made a mistake, and we’re paying the price.”

Once the suspension ended after the 2020 World Series, the Red Sox brought Cora back, as many suspected they would, even if it might have entailed some difficult conversations about public blowback.

“No, it was easy,” said John Henry, the Red Sox owner, after Boston beat Tampa on Monday. “He made a huge difference. You see it every night. The decisions he makes, just like in 2018, especially in October. His instincts and intelligence for this game is unmatched.”

Henry lauded Cora for helping paper over many of the flaws on this Red Sox team, which goes into the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Friday as underdogs.

Cora has actually been candid all season about those flaws and weaknesses — many of them defensive, with players forced out of position in some cases, and making careless blunders in others. Most recently, he said after Wednesday’s workout that some of the mistakes made in the division series could not be repeated if Boston hopes to advance past Houston.

“We just needed to work at a few things,” Cora said. “Some things we got better, others we still stink.”

Such blunt assessments are rarely uttered by managers of playoff teams. But Cora has an endearing and frank delivery that, for now, does not seem to outwardly anger his players. It is one of the several ways in which Cora’s impact has been tangible, and even inspired his players to overachieve all the way to mid-October.

“He’s a guy you’d run through a wall for,” said Boston pitcher Garrett Whitlock. “If he told me to run through that wall, I’d believe that he had something there to make sure it would fall for me. That’s the kind of leader he is.”

Numerous times during the season the Red Sox were destined for dismal failure, only to recover and play on. Managers tend to be lauded for resilience, but the Red Sox players deserve credit, too, as does Chaim Bloom, the chief baseball officer whose oft-criticized trade deadline tweaks proved effective in the long run.

Image

Credit…Bob Levey/Getty Images

It started with the opening series sweep in Baltimore. Then, after blowing a healthy divisional lead on the last day of July, the Red Sox suffered a demoralizing sweep by the Yankees at home in late September, and then lost two of three in Baltimore in the penultimate series of the season.

In the eyes of many, Boston had waved the white flag of defeat and simply quit. It was not the case. It turned out they were regrouping for a final assault.

Again they were given last rites when they fell behind, 5-1, in the finale of the regular season against the Washington Nationals, and again when they trailed, 5-2, to the Rays in the first inning of Game 2 of the division series. In both of those games they had their nominal ace, Chris Sale, pounded off the mound, yet rebounded to win.

In Game 2, Cora swiftly removed Sale, after a disastrous first inning, and then embarked on a series of micro pep talks on the bench. Boston went on to win, 14-6, and has not lost since.

“It was definitely a little deflating at first,” Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo said of the poor Game 2 start. “But I just remember going into the dugout and A.C. is coming up and down just, ‘It’s all right, we got a whole game, eight more innings. Keep going.’ I felt like that really set the tone.”

It has been a theme of Boston’s season thus far, the ability of its blemished roster to persevere. The players deserve credit for repeatedly fighting back into contention, and also blame for earlier missteps. The same goes for Cora. Many of his decisions have worked, but not all.

If he was the manager who got Boston to the A.L.C.S., he was also the manager who blew a four-and-a-half-game lead in the division.

As a player for 14 years in the major leagues, Cora left many feeling he would become a general manager, so astute was he at assessing all aspects of the game with an executive’s eye. But his gift right now is managing, and although he learned at the feet of a long list accomplished skippers — Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy, Terry Francona, Ron Washington and Jerry Manuel, among them — he has put his own imprint on the craft.

In 2018, his first year in Boston, Cora manipulated all the tactical dials with precision, especially his use of starting pitchers out of the bullpen in the postseason. He excelled under Dave Dombrowski, a traditional general manager, and has proved equally capable under an analytically based executive, like Bloom.

Image

Credit…Nick Wass/Associated Press

For some, Cora’s year in exile actually helped solidify his position as one of Baseball’s elite managers.

“He used the time to improve his life, get closer to his family, spend time with them and also learn from his mistakes,” said Joe Espada, the Astros bench coach and a friend of Cora’s. “That time away from baseball helped him to become the manager he is today.”

People like Espada, and Carlos Correa, the Astros gifted shortstop, are not surprised by Boston’s success. Correa and Cora formed a bond during the latter’s one season in Houston — a bond some would note included the cheating scandal.

It is a stigma they all must carry, but just as Correa continues to succeed post scandal, he pointed to Cora’s return to Boston as the key move that carried them from last place in 2020 to that emotional embrace between father and daughter at Fenway Park.

“He came in and put them back on the map,” Correa said. He added, “I’m very happy that he is able to accomplish that after everything he went through. Not only him, but also his family. It was a beautiful moment for him, his daughter, his family. I’m very proud of him.”

James Wagner contributed reporting.



email:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up to our newsletter!