LOS ANGELES — Even when Alex Cora loses, he wins.
The first-year Red Sox manager has drawn praise all season, and throughout the postseason, for having a Midas touch when it comes to his lineups and in-game decisions.
One finally backfired Saturday night in Game 4 of the World Series against the Dodgers — and his team won anyway, 9-6, to take a three-games-to-one lead into Sunday night’s Game 5.
The decision: With the game scoreless entering the bottom of the sixth, Cora had relievers Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly ready to go. Cora stuck with lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, who hadn’t started a game since Sept. 20, when he threw 3 2⁄3 innings against the Yankees.
He had made six previous appearances this postseason, the longest a 1 2⁄3-inning outing in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Yankees in which he threw 31 pitches.
Rodriguez hit leadoff man David Freese, who was replaced by pinch runner Kike Hernandez. He struck out Max Muncy, but Justin Turner doubled down the leftfield line. Still, Rodriguez stayed in and, after an error led to the Dodgers’ first run, Cora allowed the lefthander to face Yasiel Puig, who destroyed a 3-and-1 pitch. His three-run homer to leftfield made it 4-0.
“I pushed him too hard,” Cora said. “I had Joe ready, I had Barnesie ready . . . We felt the matchup was good for us, that matchup is good for us when Eddie is fresh and he’s able to get that fastball up. I had Barnesie ready and I was actually kicking myself for a few innings before the comeback.”
Come back his team did, scoring nine runs in the final three innings to bail out Cora and make his decision a side note — a small one at that.
Contrast Cora’s decisions with those made by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose bullpen moves have come under fire since Game 1 of this series. Roberts faced similar fire after his team lost to the Astros in seven games in last year’s World Series.
Roberts was roundly criticized for his use of righty Ryan Madson in the first two games of this series — to be fair, Madson had allowed one run in seven postseason appearances entering the World Series — but he was especially hammered for Game 4.
Rich Hill had limited the Red Sox to one hit through six innings and started the seventh with a 4-0 lead. He walked Xander Bogaerts but struck out Eduardo Nuñez with his 91st pitch. Roberts, accompanied by boos, then brought in lefthander Scott Alexander to face the lefthanded-hitting Brock Holt, who walked.
And even more after Madson replaced Alexander and promptly allowed a three-run homer by pinch hitter Mitch Moreland that cut the Dodgers’ lead to 4-3 and completely changed the game’s tenor.
“We were scuffling, we were scuffling bad,” Holt said. “And it kind of took a big hit from one of our guys to get everyone going, and obviously that was Mitch Moreland tonight. And after he did that, I think everyone kind of loosened up and we started putting together good at-bats.”
It was a big hit that might not have occurred if Hill (and his mostly unhittable curveball) still had been on the mound. His removal was a far bigger factor in the outcome than the manufactured narrative about Chris Sale’s dugout rant motivating the Red Sox.
“We were excited in the bullpen for sure,” Kelly said of the Boston relievers’ reaction. “Rich Hill was absolutely on fire. That breaking ball is unreal . . . He’s a very difficult at-bat. But for him to get out of the ballgame, us in the bullpen, we’re excited.”
A phalanx of ineffective relievers followed Madson as Kenley Jansen, Dylan Floro, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda combined to allow six runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
For his part, Cora has consistently deflected the “magic touch” questions.
“It’s all about the players,” he said. “They’re talented. We get information, we put them in spots that we feel that they’re going to be successful. But in the end they’re the ones that hit homers and make plays, and actually they make managers look good. That’s it.”