Little-known fact: Alex Cora graduated magna cum laude from Hogwarts.
No, I can’t prove it … but it’s the only reasonable explanation for how the rookie manager just bodyslammed the Yankees in the ALDS by pulling off a string of flawless moves that, had they not panned out, would have made for the longest winter of his life.
After watching his bullpen implode in Game 1 and seeing his franchise suffer yet another postseason choke at the cold and clammy hands of David Price in Game 2, Cora pushed original Game 3 starter Rick Porcello back to Game 4 and handed the ball to Nathan Eovaldi, who took the mound at Yankee Stadium Monday night and spun the kind of seven-inning, lights-out gem his team desperately needed.
In addition to giving Eovaldi the start, Cora shook things up by benching Eduardo Núñez, Sandy Leon and Ian Kinsler in favor of Raphael Devers, Christian Vazquez and Brock Holt. How’d that work out? Well …
Devers had two hits, scored twice, and drove in a run …
Vazquez had two hits, one run, and one RBI …
and Brock Holt opened an entire case of whup-ass on Yankee pitching to become the first player in history to hit for the cycle in the postseason.
BTW: No, there’s no asterisk next to Holt’s achievement. If the Yankees are getting their asses kicked so badly that they quit and stick their backup catcher on the mound, that’s not Brock Holt’s problem. If I step in the box knowing that a dinger earns me the cycle, I don’t care if I’m facing J. Lo feeding softballs into a pitching machine dialed down to 50; I’m swinging for the fence … and if I clear it, it counts. In closing: 1.) The team that coughed up the first cycle in postseason history is the New York Yankees, and 2.) Congratulations, Brock.
Also, memo to Ron Darling: There’s no gentlemen’s agreement that says Andrew Benintendi is supposed to give New York a free strike or stay put at first just because the Sox have a healthy lead. It’s Game 3 of the ALDS, and not a single person familiar with the kind of come-from-behind agony that New York used to regularly inflict upon Boston fans is buying into that “pump the brakes” bullshit. If a pitcher grooves one 3-0 to Benny, I want him swinging out of his shoes. If he’s got the wheels to swipe a bag and get in scoring position — and if he does so while the Yankees are playing Voit to hold him at first — I want him going into full-on thievery mode. Don’t like getting your ass kicked? Play better.
By the time it was all over, the Sox dealt the Yankees a humiliating 16-1 loss and Cora looked like a genius … at least until his Game 4 lineup surfaced.
At Least Half Of Red Sox Nation, Tuesday Afternoon, October 9th:
“He’s what? He’s benching the guy who just hit for the cycle and putting the dead bats of Ian Kinsler and Eduardo Núñez back in the lineup? Wait wait wait … he’s having Vazquez catch for Rick Porcello? Vazquez hasn’t caught for Porcello all year! Not once! Oh, sweet baby jeebus, this is madness!”
Kinsler, Núñez and Vazqui put up three of the Sox’s only four runs, the fourth of which came in the form of a Christian Vazquez homer into that short porch everyone keeps bitching about. I love that short porch. God bless that short porch. From now on, I’m calling it the Vazquez Veranda.
Hey, Alex, while you’re working all this managerial sorcery, why not have Chris Sale pitch the eighth inning in relief? I mean, the way things are going, he’ll probably retire the side on 13 pitches, am I right? Hahahahaha. Oh, man that would be wild, wouldn’t it?
And that was that. Cora finished teaching his master class in chess, Boone continued searching the couch cushions for his missing checkers pieces, the staff wheeled the champagne into the visitors clubhouse, and everyone exhaled as Kimbrel came on to do his thing — which, of course, is when it all went to shit.
Ironically, the one move about which no one would have questioned Cora’s judgement had the Sox lost — pitching Kimbrel in the ninth — was the one move that almost cost his team the game.
I have no desire to relive the stroke-inducing stress that Kimbrel put us all through last night, so let’s just fast forward past the two walks, the hit-by-pitch, the single, and the sac fly that brought the Yankees within one run of tying things up, and let’s instead turn our attention to the unbelievable fashion in which the Red Sox recorded the game’s final out:
Crazy, stressful, insane.
This is what October baseball’s all about. pic.twitter.com/MLuoPyH0mP
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2018
When that ball left Torres’ bat and bounced weakly toward third, I was sure it was moving too slowly for Nunez to have any chance at all of making an out. Instead, he turned the greatest play I’ve ever seen him make, and its greatness was matched only by Steve Pearce’s performance on the other end:
— James (@GamecockSplash) October 10, 2018
Here’s how close that play was:
I will never forget this play. Amazeballs. pic.twitter.com/SjC3asmjf6
— ⚾️ Jon Zal ⚾️ (@JonZalSox) October 10, 2018
If Torres is safe, the Yankees have the bases loaded and another chance to push across the tying run … and if Pearce lets that ball get past him, the tying run scores and Yankees fans raise their voices in a deafening symphony of obnoxiousness that would have shaken the earth. And then the Yankees would have willed their way to a walk-off win, because that is what happens when you’re the Red Sox and your closer coughs up a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth at Yankees Stadium in Game 4 of the ALDS.
But Torres wasn’t safe … and Pearce didn’t let that ball get past him … and Yankees fans were silenced … and the Sox snuffed out New York’s season with one of the greatest game-ending plays that I have ever seen.
And now the Red Sox are going to the ALCS, and there will be more baseball at Fenway Park this October, and I am more excited about it than a grown man who doesn’t play for the Red Sox should be. And I’m OK with that.
Now let’s just hope Alex Cora can keep casting those magical spells.
(SPOILER ALERT: I just heard Cora announce that David “Poor Circulation” Price will pitch Game 2 in the chilly night air at Fenway on Sunday, so if anyone needs me, I’ll just be over here in the corner, rocking back and forth with my head in my hands.)