By Terry Lyons, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON – History was made. Damage was done.
Beforehand, when the Governor of the Commonwealth Charlie Baker reached out to the office of California Governor Jerry Brown to make the tradition pre-World Series wager, he never heard back – a sure sign Brown didn’t want to make a bet against the formidable Red Sox.
Sox Manager Alex Cora with his daughter, Camila
Yes, the LA Dodgers were defeated in five, and the Astros went down in five, as well. Before that? New York, New York went down, 3-1. Steve Pearce took MVP honors but it could’ve been David Price who earned two victories or Nathan Eovaldi who came out of the bullpen to throw one of the gutsiest relief efforts, albeit in defeat during the epic, 18-inning Game 3.
There were indicators in Spring Training that this Red Sox team could go the distance. But, baseball is life and there were some serious ups & downs during the regular season. In fact, it started with a heart-breaking loss to Tampa Bay on Opening Day when Boston lost to the Rays, 6-4. Ace left-hander Chris Sale threw six innings of one-hit ball and passed the torch to Matt Barnes who threw a scoreless seventh.
In the 8th inning of that opening game, the supposed Achilles heel of the 2018 Red Sox flared-up as Joe Kelly and Carson Smith – the heart of the bullpen – imploded, walking four batters and allowing six runs.
As the season progressed, Kelly showed signs of brilliance, signs of fighting through adversity and showed signs of utter defeat. His teammates experienced similar peaks and valleys, especially his fellow relievers. Injuries took their toll on Smith and knuckleballer Steven Wright. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia gave it a try but was shelved for the season with his bum left knee.
Hanley Ramirez was designated for assignment on May 25th and banished on May 30th.
That’s the day we knew Alex Cora was in charge of the destiny of the 2018 Boston Red Sox. Cora stepped up to make the toughest of decisions and to set a tone, a high standard, for this team. The DFA of Ramirez paved the way for Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski to acquire eventual World Series MVP Pearce.
The vast majority of the playing roster was determined in the spring, but once training broke, each decision and each transaction that put the final roster in place was calculated by Cora and executed by Dombrowski, in tandem.
The most important transaction of the season was made more than a year ago, on October 22, 2017, when Dombrowski hired Cora as the 47th manager in franchise history. Cora was introduced as manager November 6th, after coaching the Houston Astros to a World Series victory under manager A.J. Hinch.
“I’ve been saying it since Day 1,” said Cora today as he addressed the Red Sox fans assembled at Fenway Park just prior to the championship parade, “the players understand how important this is to our fan base. You guys live this 24 hours, seven days a week and your expectations are way up there,” he added pointing to the sky. “But one thing for sure, the same expectations you guys have, that group down there has it too, and that’s why they’re the World Champs.
When asked about the loss in 18 innings in LA, which could’ve been a crushing loss to a team, Cora said: “It was a crushing loss to the people outside the clubhouse,” he began. “One thing I’ve been telling them for a while now, is how proud I am of them. That day, from pitch one all the way to the last pitch, we fought and fought and fought.
“We made a point of making Nate (Nathan Eovaldi) know how important he was for us. I think I told him, ‘When we win the whole thing, when people look back to game 3, they’re not going to remember who lost that game, they’re going to remember Nathan Eovaldi in one of the greatest performances in World Series history.”
When the series was reviewed, noting Cora’s near-perfect “button-pushing,” pinch-hitting and relief moves, notably coming in the 7th inning of Game 4, the manager joked, “well that’s how Boston worked, because in the 6th inning, they wanted to fire me!”
A moment that stood out in Cora’s memory from the night the team won?
“I went out to tell the umpire that Chris (Sale) was coming in and Jackie (Bradley Jr.) was going to play defense, and I looked to right field and I see Chris coming in and the rest of the bullpen giving him a standing ovation. You don’t see that often. Just looking over there, I thought, ‘we did it right.’ They do believe in each other. They do care about each other.
“I don’t like talking about myself,” said Cora after being asked for insight into the team, “what this organization did last year, giving me a chance to manage at the big league level, knowing where I’m coming from, knowing I had no experience, knowing I’m 42 and still learning, they gave me a shot. They trusted me.
“From the first meeting at Ft. Myers (site of spring training), with Jackie, Chris, Xander (Bogaerts) and Sandy (Leon), I said, ‘let’s move on,’ ‘this is what we’re gonna do.’ Get the information, use it to your advantage, play hard, win games and if not, we just turn the page.
“In October, Brock (Holt) hits for the cycle, he doesn’t play the next day,” Cora noted. “Who else? There were a lot of those, but they didn’t care. During the season, I tried to make a point to (let the players know) if you were going to start or play the night before or two days before. In October, we did it for the first few days, but after that, it really didn’t matter. I didn’t have to tell them or text them. They just wanted to show up, help everybody out and win ball games.”
A grand finale?
“To finish it off, we go to this historic ballpark which holds 55,000 people,” said Cora, noting he played there for six years. “I know how special Dodgers Stadium is. When Steve Pearce hit that home run in Game 5, it felt like we had 40,000 fans cheering for us at Dodgers Stadium.
“It was an amazing run. It was an amazing year.”
Simply amazing. Jose Alexander Cora was the true M.V.P. of the 2018 Boston Red Sox season, and in all due respect to Pearce, Price and Eovaldi, Cora should’ve been the write-in vote on every ballot cast after Game 5 of the World Series.
He signed on as manager with a bargain basement price tag, with his only contract demand being a request for an airplane full of life-saving supplies to be organized and shipped-off to his native Puerto Rico to assist in recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria. That plane departed last January 30th, leaving Logan as the winter snow fell with tons of important supplies but with Alex Cora leading a gesture truly signifying his legacy of leadership that began with compassion. It grew because of an everyday willingness to out-work his opponents, and create a newfound culture of trust, a team of goodwill founded by execution, communication, decisiveness, and of relationship-building as the Red Sox front-office staff combined with a roster of talented players to support an organization-wide effort to win.
A team was built that dark, winter day as respect for a new manager was being earned.
While MLB calls for players to be voted as “Most Valuable” in the World Series, today there is a campaign for Alex Cora to be named M.V.P.P. – the Most Valuable Person in Parade.