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Alex Cora pushes all the right buttons for Red Sox in series clincher

Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Red Sox took it all in stride when Aaron Judge walked out of Fenway Park Saturday night carrying a boom box that was blasting, “New York, New York.” It turns out the Red Sox have nothing against the tune, or the town.  They came into the latter and started spreading their own news.

It was that they have enough poise, depth and nerve to nullify the Yankees’ home-field advantage. They made a big dice roll Tuesday in Game 4, using ace Chris Sale in the eighth inning to protect a three-run lead rather than save him for a potential Game 5 Thursday in Boston. Then they withstood a shaky ninth inning. Ultimately, the Red Sox swept the two games in the Bronx and won the American League Division Series, advancing to the League Championship Series against the Astros.

“It was fun, I enjoyed it,” Sale said in the clubhouse, his beard dripping champagne. “We’re not done yet, either. This is the first step.”

First-year manager Alex Cora said, “Our goals are way up there, way up there. Obviously, it started with the division and then the best record and home-field advantage. But now this is step four or whatever it is. Our goal is to win 11 games in October.”

They won their decisive third against the Yankees, 4-3, with Cora again pushing all the right buttons. The bullpen had been the team’s weak link, so porous that the manager, had to use starter Rick Porcello for key outs in Game 1. But relief pitching was a rock of strength in the clincher, with Sale serving as the bridge, until they turned to closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.

“I told him I was ready to go,” Sale said. “It didn’t matter when he wanted me.  From the fifth inning on, I was ready. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

This time, it was Kimbrel who was the weak link, allowing two runs in the ninth and allowing two more runners on base before retiring Gleyber Torres on a soft grounder to third to end it. Porcello, the starter, said, “I was on the railing I had to sit back on the bench because I couldn’t watch but Craig did a hell of a job.”

“Today” trumps both tomorrow and yesterday in the postseason. On the latter score, Cora decided not to start Brock Holt after the second baseman had on Monday become the first ever to hit for the cycle in a postseason game. Ian Kinsler, Holt’s replacement and the son of a guy who grew up playing ball near Yankee Stadium, hit a key double in the three-run third.

Just as Cora had called on Porcello to get key outs in Game 1 — possibly preserving the whole series — he used Sale to hold the Yankees down in the eighth inning on Tuesday night. Cora had said a few hours earlier that, as Astros bench coach last October, he had not agreed with the decision to use Astros ace Justin Verlander to close out the Division Series against the Red Sox. Yet it worked then and it worked again this time.

The Red Sox had remained unfazed after having lost Game 2 and apparently having squandered the momentum. If anything, they were amused by Judge’s stunt. They were not flustered by the intense noise in Yankee Stadium.

They know they still have a long way to go, despite a franchise-record 108 regular-season victories and a convincing series win over their most bitter rival. Baseball history is dotted with teams that had stellar years that have been all but forgotten by the sport’s collective memory because they did not win the World Series.

But the Red Sox have made a huge stride. “It is amazing,” Mookie Betts said. “We play for the World Series and we got past the first step.”

And they celebrated on the field, as the Yankee Stadium speakers played, “New York, New York.”

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