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Red Sox Were All In On Cora


There are many terms used to describe a team’s ability to fight and overcome adversity.  Grit.  Determination.  Balls.  Whatever you call it, the 2018 Red Sox had “IT”.  In a stark contrast from the 2017 team, which seemed just as content to roll over and die when trailing in the late innings, the 2018 Red Sox erased that label early in the season and quickly instilled in their fans that you didn’t want to change the channel, because there was almost no deficit that the team could not overcome.  They may have fallen short, but more often than not, they rallied and made a game of it before the final out was made.

Photo courtesy of SI.com

One need not look too far to find out why the 2018 Red Sox, virtually the same squad as 2017, could have such a dramatic turnaround.  All the credit must be given to first year manager Alex Cora.  We all know the Red Sox recent playoff history.  From early in spring training it became apparent that the team had cast away whatever cloud it had hanging over its head under previous manager John Farrell.  Players were extolling the breath of fresh air Cora brought to the team and the fact that they were again having fun playing baseball.

But Cora did more than just let players have fun.  He encouraged players to be more aggressive and play to their strengths.  When players struggled (see Jackie Bradley Jr.) he continued to show confidence in them to the media, and more importantly, to the players themselves.  This paid off huge dividends in the postseason with the performances of Bradley, Rafael Devers, and Joe Kelly, just to name a few.  Without the performances of those three, the Red Sox likely don’t get past the Astros, much less win it all.

Cora also had a feel for his team and his players, and was able to make decisions which initially appeared questionable or unconventional and parlayed that to success.  This was on clear display with his use of the starting pitchers in relief roles in the playoffs, a position for which he has coined the phrase “The Rover”.  Teams have utilized starting pitchers are relievers in the past, but I can’t recall a team using it’s starters to the extent that Cora did this postseason, beginning in in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees when Rick Porcello came out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth inning despite being slated to start Game 3.  Before the final out of the World Series was made, Cora used all four of his playoff starters (Porcello, Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi) in relief roles, as well as relegated starter Eduardo Rodriguez in a spot start role in Game 4 of the World Series after Eovaldi’s epic relief performance in Game 3.

Cora’s ability to think “outside the box” in the postseason really should not have come as a surprise to Red Sox fans.  Cora was given credit for the idea of releasing Hanley Ramirez early in the season when Ramirez was underperforming and it was feared that benching him would be detrimental to the team.  Whether this was actually Cora’s idea or he was being set up as the scapegoat in case it failed is irrelevant at this point.  Cora took responsibility for the act for the betterment of the team, and survived his first real test in front of the relentless Boston media.

Dealing with the media was another skill which Cora exhibited at a level far beyond his experience as a rookie manager.  While not always 100% honest, Cora’s simple explanation of moves both on and off the field was a welcome change from the technobabble that was spewed by Farrell on a regular basis.  After a pitcher was shelled in an outing, Farrell would state “the ball came out of his hand well” or “he looked crisp in his delivery”.  Boston baseball fans have far too much knowledge to buy that type of rhetoric.  Cora was not afraid to say a player “was not good” or “needs to do better”.  Cora was also not afraid to admit when he made a mistake, as he did when he admitted he left Rodriguez in the game too long in his Game 4 start.  Cora didn’t talk down to the fans, he talked to them. 

Cora went on an incredible run in the postseason.  Nearly every decision he made paid off, while nearly every move made by his Dodger counterpart Dave Roberts.  Some of that is luck, but a lot of it comes from preparation, research, and from knowing and believing in your players.  Cora had that connection with his players, and they wanted to play for him.  It was obvious from their performance in the World Series by the way they battled back time and again that the players believed in their manager’s approach and in each other.

Price Is Right!

Like most Red Sox fans, when Price walked off the mound in the second inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees I would have been content if he never threw a pitch in a Red Sox uniform again.  To Price’s credit, he persevered and completely turned around his reputation and arguably should have been named the World Series MVP.  It was fitting that his final performance came in Los Angeles, because the story was worthy of a Hollywood movie.  He was gracious in his answers to reporter questions following the game, but couldn’t resist in gloating that he couldn’t be questioned about his struggles any more, and that he now “holds all the cards”.  He now has a decision to make whether he will remain with the Red Sox for the next four years at $30 M per year, or take the opportunity to opt out of his contract and hit the free agent market in an attempt to cash in on his postseason success.  It’s doubtful he will get offers to match what is still owed to him by the Red Sox, but if he truly is not happy in Boston he can still score a hefty salary and ride out the remainder of his career in a more player friendly environment with warmer weather.

Another pitcher who sits ready for a nice pay day is Joe Kelly.  He made the playoff roster simply because the Red Sox had no better alternatives.  In another remarkable story, Kelly quickly went from mop-up duty to ultimately the eighth inning role he was projected to hold all season long.  He was lights out in the ALCS and the World Series, and now rides into free agency with that memory of what he is capable of doing fresh in the minds of 29 other general managers.  But this is the problem that has plagued Kelly throughout his career, and the reason the Cardinals were ready to trade him at the age of 26.  Tremendous potential, but that often failed to translate on the mound.  Expect the Red Sox to make an offer, but don’t expect them to go too far before moving on.


Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT.

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