BOSTON -- Is Alex Cora lucky? Or just this good at the whole manager thing?
It’s a common October question when a guy is rolling like this, a hot streak that had the Red Sox three wins from a championship when they showed up for Wednesday’s Game 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park.
Cora far outlasted the three other rookies hired for their first managerial gigs last winter, and only one, the Yankees’ Aaron Boone, also got his team to the playoffs. Much of that has to do with the Red Sox being a superior club, as evidenced by their 108-win season, but don’t underestimate Cora’s role in that success.
His players haven’t. Take Brock Holt, a utility infielder who no doubt would like to be playing more, yet didn’t duck a fastball question fired at him Wednesday when asked about the difference between Cora and the manager he replaced, John Farrell.
Farrell, though pummeled toward the end of his tenure, still was able to get the Red Sox to three AL East titles and a World Series crown in 2013. The not-so-small detail of twice losing the Division Series remains a black mark on his resume and ultimately cost Farrell his job.
There was something clearly wrong with Farrell at the helm, and Holt had no problem identifying what might be at the root of this 2018 renaissance under Cora.
“For me personally it’s communication,” Holt said before Game 2. “Being able to know what’s going on, going through his head, when we’re playing, when we’re not playing, certain situations where we might come in during the game. It just makes it so much easier as a team to go out and perform. There wasn’t a whole lot of communication in the past.”
“I just think the overall vibe that be brings to the team, to the clubhouse, is so positive that it’s easy for us to go out and kind of do what we’ve been doing.”
Cora preached that to the Red Sox from Day 1 in spring training, and their record since then speaks for itself. He liberally rested players -- certainly in conjunction with the front office -- in order to make sure they weren’t gassed by October, understanding that anything short of the World Series would be considered a failure, even for someone with a lack of managerial experience at this level.
While that blueprint has worked to perfection, the script doesn’t always go as planned during the playoffs, when players could be nursing injuries and the brighter spotlight may have an unanticipated impact on some members of the roster. Again, Cora hasn’t run into that problem.
He’s somehow coaxed a surprising efficiency from a bullpen that was widely considered the biggest weakness of these Red Sox, and in doing so, it seems to have fed off that confidence. Even when Cora pushes his luck, as he seemingly did Tuesday night in leaving the fading Ryan Brasier in to face Manny Machado with the bases loaded, the ball bounces his way. Brasier limited Machado’s damage by getting a sacrifice fly that pulled the Dodgers within 5-4, then Cora went to the shaky Eduardo Rodriguez, who retired Cody Bellinger on a flyout to escape the brewing catastrophe.
The game-changer came in the bottom half, when Cora outfoxed his L.A. counterpart Dave Roberts, who summoned the lefty reliever Alex Wood to face Rafael Devers. Cora then replaced the hot-hitting Devers with Eduardo Nunez -- a righty bat -- and he drilled Wood’s second pitch into the Monster seats. Everything just keeps coming up Cora.
“We know the opposition, how they manage and how we can maneuver our team so we can have the best matchups,” Cora said. “There were three or four matchups that we do feel Eduardo can be very successful and you saw it [Tuesday]. It just happened that we were patient enough and we felt that, OK, this is the spot.
“But you prepare, and then when you make those decisions, you feel convicted about it. I think that’s the way I’d put it.”
If luck is the residue of design, as Branch Rickey once said, Cora is intelligent enough to know he’s the face of a much larger machine, one that keeps churning out victories. But he’s proven himself the right person to be out front, and done a masterful job in the manager’s seat.
“I’ve heard Alex say a hundred times it’s because we’re talented,” Holt said. “Don’t take credit away from him -- he’s good at what he does. He’s got a method to the madness, and the strings he’s pulling are for a reason.”