Cora aims to knock off former team

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS - By JIMMY GOLEN

BOS­TON — Alex Cora led Bos­ton to a vic­tory over the hated Yan­kees. Next up for the first-year Red Sox man­ager: The team he left af­ter win­ning a World Se­ries as a bench coach last sea­son.

“I’ve been talk­ing about them the whole sea­son, so now we go,” he said af­ter the Red Sox beat New York 4-3 in Game 4 of the AL Divi­sion Se­ries to earn the right to play the Hous­ton Astros for the pen­nant. “Best of seven. They know me. I know them. It should be fun.”

An in­fielder who spent 14 years with six big league teams, Cora was in Hous­ton for one year be­fore the

Red Sox made him the first mi­nor­ity man­ager in fran­chise his­tory — and one of its youngest, too. His first sea­son is al­ready a suc­cess, with a fran­chise-record 108 vic­to­ries, a third con­sec­u­tive AL East ti­tle and the team’s first play­off se­ries win since 2013.

Now he has to do it again — against his former boss, A.J. Hinch, whose Astros swept Cleve­land in the ALDS. Games 1 and 2 are Satur­day and Sun­day be­fore the se­ries moves to Hous­ton for three more, if nec­es­sary.

“I don’t know too much about them. Just they have a good team,” Cora said coyly on Tues­day night. “What they did to the In­di­ans, that was impressive. It seems like they’re play­ing their best base­ball of the sea­son at the right time.”

And so are the Red Sox, thanks to Cora.

In his first post­sea­son se­ries as a man­ager, he seemed to make all the right de­ci­sions, like start­ing Brock Holt in Game 3 and see­ing him hit for the only post­sea­son cy­cle in base­ball his­tory. And then he put Holt back on the bench in Game 4 and watched Ian Kinsler come through with a key RBI dou­ble.

“We’re very for­tu­nate to have a guy in A.C., who is not very far re­moved from play­ing the game, which def­i­nitely helps,” Red Sox re­liever Matt Barnes said. “You have a guy who won the World Se­ries last year, so he knows what it takes to win a World Se­ries.

“It seemed like ev­ery but­ton he’s push­ing is the right one. I think he’s got a great feel for the game. He un­der­stands the game. He does a great job of manag­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with ev­ery­body on what’s go­ing on, and I think it showed in this se­ries, and it will be awe­some mov­ing for­ward.”

Hinch said he is happy for his former as­sis­tant, who was a sound­ing board on strat­egy and prepa­ra­tion and took over when Hinch was ejected.

“(I’m) try­ing to re­mem­ber some things that I told him that I wish I wouldn’t have,” Hinch said Wed­nes­day when the Astros worked out for the first time since learn­ing their next op­po­nent.

“The bench coach and the man­ager are re­ally tight,” Hinch said. “He was ob­vi­ously right next to me ev­ery step of the way. As a bench coach, you’re kind of in­volved in ev­ery­thing (but) maybe mas­ter of noth­ing when it comes to not be­ing in charge.”

Cora also served as a link to the play­ers, a role that has served him well in Bos­ton. Red Sox play­ers — in­clud­ing a cou­ple that were Cora’s team­mates when he was with the team from 2005-08 — praised the re­lata­bil­ity of their 42-year-old man­ager af­ter five years with the more tra­di­tional and dis­tant John Farrell.

The Astros saw it as well. “He was a great coach and he meant a lot to me,” Hous­ton short­stop Car­los Cor­rea said Wed­nes­day. “Get­ting to spend a full sea­son with him last year was pretty spe­cial. I learned a lot of things from him. He’s a bril­liant mind. He knows a lot about the game.”

Hinch and Cora have main­tained a friendship through their year apart, even ex­chang­ing text mes­sages through the first round. That’s go­ing to stop. “He’s en­cour­aged me. I’ve en­cour­aged him,” Hinch said. “The ban­ter, the con­ver­sa­tions will prob­a­bly min­i­mize a lit­tle bit over the next cou­ple of days.”

File photo by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat / lmzart­works.com

Af­ter help­ing the Astros win the World Se­ries in 2017, Alex Cora hopes to elim­i­nate them in 2018.

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