HOUSTON – Álex Cora ushered in his 43rd birthday early Thursday morning at Minute Maid Park by celebrating a victory in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox manager then capped his special date with a champagne celebration after dispatching the Astros to earn a berth in the World Series.
Cora accomplished what few managers have done in major league history: pick up a pair of ALCS victories on the same calendar day to dethrone the defending champions.
It’s unclear how many managers have secured two championship series victories on the same calendar day, but there’s one feat that Cora can claim as his own. He became the first Puerto Rican manager to lead a team to the World Series and the first Latino to reach the Fall Classic in his first season as manager, earning a special shutout from Hall of Famer and Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez.
“A perfect day”
With left-hander David Price delivering six scoreless innings on a night when former Astro J.D. Martinez hit a solo home run and young star Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer, the Red Sox punched their ticket to the World Series a year and one day after Cora interviewed for the manager position.
“It’s a perfect day,” Cora said after the Red Sox beat the Astros 4-1 to win the best-of-seven ALCS. “Last year around this time I still remember I had a meeting with Mr. [John] Henry and Tom [Werner] in New York on Oct. 17 around 11:30.
“When I got back to the hotel I had a feeling that this was going to happen. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad that it’s with this group. These guys are very humble, very professional and I’m very proud of them.”
Cora is headed to the World Series for the second consecutive year. He was the Astros’ bench coach last year as they won the franchise’s first championship.
All of the men who played crucial roles in Game 5 credited Cora for his steady hand this season.
“Amazing, amazing,” said J.D. Martinez of Cora’s work. Martinez gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead with a home run off Justin Verlander in the third inning. “He’s been awesome. Controlling the clubhouse, talking to the guys, getting just the feedback, getting the feel.”
“There’s some time when guys are banged up and he’s like, ‘Dude, you’re hurting, take the day.’ Most managers will run you out there. I think he understands that and guys see that so guys want to go out there and guys want to play for him.”
“He was on a mission”
As his players sprayed champagne nearby, the fiery Cora displayed the traits that have endeared him to his players. He noted that he didn’t like the way Price was being discussed on a show he saw early Thursday.
Although Price’s playoff struggles have been well documented, Cora handed the veteran left-hander the ball on short rest in Game 5.
Price rewarded Cora’s confidence by holding the Astros’ potent lineup to three hits with a career postseason high nine strikeouts.
“He was on a mission,” Cora said of Price. “I don’t get too emotional and don’t listen to much, but that one got me today because this guy shows up every day and he works on his craft and he doesn’t like to get beat up out there.
“He doesn’t go over there just to get beat up in the postseason. And for somebody to talk about it, it’s a shame. People don’t know that this guy is one of the best teammates we have. He’s in every bullpen of every starter. He’s in the video room. He’s working for everybody for them to be better. Today, I was glad he was on the mound. I’m glad he pitched the way he did and now we can turn the page.”
Price definitely appreciated the confidence.
He became the first pitcher to throw at least six scoreless innings in a playoff game on three or fewer days of rest since Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS.
“He never teetered,” Price said of Cora. “He stayed the same through the ups and downs. From Game 1 this year that didn’t go the way that we expected it to go and then winning 15 or 16 straight after that. He never changed.”
“Managers don’t have a win column or whatever it is. You can’t put wins on managers, but Alex deserves a lot of this credit.”
“He’s a tremendous manager”
The Red Sox, who swept all three games at Minute Maid Park, won the last four games of the series after dropping Game 1 Saturday at Fenway Park.
Devers hit the biggest home run of his career in the sixth. He deposited Verlander’s offering into the Crawford Boxes behind left field for a three-run home run, giving the Red Sox a 4-0.
Devers, 21, struggled at the plate and defensively through the regular season. He hit .240 with 21 home runs and 66 RBI to finish with a 0.0 Wins Above Replacement.
He has bounced back in the playoffs. He now has three career postseason games with at least two RBI, joining Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones and Miguel Cabrera as the only men in baseball history with at least two RBI in at least three postseason games.
Devers credits Cora with helping him remain confident through the lows of the season.
“He’d give us all confidence,” Devers said of Cora. “He’d tell us how it is and he’s a tremendous manager and motivating us since spring training to be here.”
Cora knows that Boston fans expect more even though he guided the Red Sox to a franchise record 108 victories in the regular season.
“When the game is over we talk a little bit about it and we turn the page,” he said. “It’s been a great approach for the season, and it was historic for the franchise. But we knew that that wasn’t enough. We knew that we were going to be judged by how we played in October, and so far so good.”
There’s work to be done. The first Puerto Rican manager to reach the World Series wants to add the ultimate accomplishment to his resume.
“We’re still four games shy of doing what we set to accomplish,” said Cora. “It’s a great accomplishment. I’m not going to hide it. To come here and sweep them and beat the world champs it’s amazing, but we still have work to do.”
Featured image: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images