ALCS: Like Alex Cora, the Red Sox are coming back


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

After Cora played a starring role in the Astros’ illicit sign-stealing capers in 2017, the MLB suspended him for the entire 2020 season. The Boston Red Sox let him go, even after leading the team to a World Series championship in 2018 with a flawless and sometimes brilliant managerial journey in the playoffs.

To be exiled afterwards was humiliating and caused anguish to his family. But in baseball terms, all Cora missed was 60 rotten Red Sox games. During four months of his suspension, he shared the same fate as virtually everyone in baseball: at home locked out as the world awaited the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

When baseball returned in July, it was for an abridged season, and Boston only spent the first day over 0.500, finishing last in the AL East under Ron Roenicke, the unlucky starter from Cora.

Still, the fallout and emotional scars of Cora’s lack of judgment may not have been fully taken into account publicly before Boston’s American League division series upended the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. During the celebration at Fenway Park in Boston, Cora hugged and kissed her daughter, Camila, and appeared to wipe tears of joy and relief from her eyes – and hers – then hugged her again.

Cora admitted in an on-field interview with Fox Sports that Camila and her entire family had suffered greatly over the past year due to her misdeeds. It was his fault, he said, resulting from a “horrible decision” to participate in the sign-stealing scheme while he was the bench coach of the Astros.

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

Once the suspension ended after the 2020 World Series, the Red Sox brought Cora back, as many suspected, although it could have resulted in some tough conversations about the public’s backlash.

“No, it was easy,” Red Sox owner John Henry said 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 instinct and intelligence for this game are unmatched.

Henry praised Cora for helping solve many shortcomings of this Red Sox team, which entered the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros as an underdog. Sure enough, the Red Sox immediately dug a hole with a 5-4 loss in Friday night’s opener. But in a season of ups and downs, they’ve found ways to come back from the worst.

Cora has actually been blunt all season about these flaws and weaknesses – many of them defensive, with players forced out of position in some cases, and reckless blunders in others. Most recently, he said after practice on Wednesday that some of the mistakes made in the divisional series could not be repeated if Boston hoped to pass Houston.

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

Such blunt evaluations are rarely uttered by managers of playoff teams. But Cora has an endearing and frank performance which, for the moment, does not seem to irritate her players externally. This is one of the many ways that Cora’s impact has been tangible and even inspired her players to push their limits until 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 would believe he had something there to make sure he would fall in love with me.” He’s the kind of leader he is.

On several occasions during the season, the Red Sox have failed miserably, only to recover and play. Managers tend to be praised for their resilience, but Red Sox players also deserve credit, as does Chaim Bloom, the general manager of baseball whose oft-criticized trade deadline adjustments have proven to be effective in the long run.

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

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

Once again, they received the final coronation when they fell behind, 5-1, in the regular season final against the Washington Nationals, and again when they were down, 5-2, against the Rays in the first inning of Game 2 of the Division. series. In those two games, their nominal ace, Chris Sale, beat the mound, but bounced back to win.

In Game 2, Cora quickly pulled Sale out, after a disastrous first inning, then embarked on a series of cheering micro-talks on the bench. Boston won 14-6 and hasn’t lost since.

“It was definitely a little deflated at the start,” Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo said of Game 2’s poor start. “But I just remember getting in the canoe and AC just going up and down, “Everything is going well, we have an entire game, eight more innings. Keep on going.’ I felt like it really set the tone.

It’s been a theme of Boston’s season so far, their flawed roster’s ability to persevere. The players deserve credit for fighting repeatedly in the conflict, and also to blame for previous missteps. The same goes for Cora. Many of his decisions have worked, but not all.

If he was the manager who brought Boston to the ALCS, he was also the manager who lost a four and a half game lead in the division.

As a player for 14 years in the major leagues, Cora left many with the feeling that he would become general manager, so astute was he to assess all aspects of the game with a managerial eye. But his gift right now is management, and although he has learned at the feet of a long list of accomplished skippers – Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy, Terry Francona, Ron Washington and Jerry Manuel, among them – he has left his own imprint on the machine.

In 2018, her first year in Boston, Cora handled all of the tactical dials with precision, especially her use of starting pitchers out of the playoff relieving pen. He excelled under Dave Dombrowski, a traditional CEO, and proved equally capable under an analysis-based framework like Bloom.

For some, Cora’s year of exile actually helped solidify her position as one of baseball’s elite managers.

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

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

It’s a stigma they all need to carry, but just as Correa continues to be successful after the scandal, he highlighted Cora’s return to Boston as the key move that took them from last place in 2020 to this embrace. emotional relationship between father and daughter in Fenway Park.

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

Jacques Wagner contributed reports.

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