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Roberts, Cora man­age Dodgers, Red Sox to brink of ti­tle

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NEWS - Bob Night­en­gale

BOS­TON — One man for­ever changed a franchise’s legacy, and the other helped soothe a coun­try’s pain.

To­gether, Dave Roberts and Alex Cora, two friends and for­mer team­mates who dealt with unique chal­lenges this sea­son, are about to make base­ball his­tory.

They are the first mi­nor­ity man­agers to face off in a World Se­ries, along with be­ing the first man­agers to have played for both teams.

“It’s sym­bolic, isn’t it?” said Cora, 43, the Red Sox’s first mi­nor­ity man­ager as a na­tive of Puerto Rico, who’s vy­ing to join Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox as the only Latino man­ager to win a World Se­ries. “I know what it means for us. I know what it means to my col­leagues who are mi­nori­ties. I’m very proud that he’s here in the World Se­ries.

“And I’m proud rep­re­sent­ing not only all the Puerto Ri­cans that live in the is­land, but Puerto Ri­cans all around the world. We know what hap­pened last year. It was a tough one. And (Hur­ri­cane) Maria kicked our ass, you know. As a coun­try, we’ve done an out­stand­ing job fight­ing.”

Roberts, 46, the son of an African-Amer­i­can fa­ther and a Ja­panese mother and the Dodgers’ first mi­nor­ity man­ager, would be the first AfricanAmer­i­can to win a World Se­ries since Cito Gas­ton of the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.

“I don’t take a whole lot of time think­ing about (it),” Roberts said, “but when I do, it’s spe­cial. I think that the nee­dle is mov­ing, maybe not as quickly as most peo­ple would like, but I’m al­ways en­cour­ag­ing mi­nori­ties to get op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Like Alex said, we don’t do the hir­ing, but to look across the field and see a mi­nor­ity in the dugout, cer­tainly is ex­cit­ing.”

Roberts should get the loud­est ova­tion by any op­pos­ing man­ager in World Se­ries his­tory. He might be try­ing to ruin the Red Sox’s sea­son, but he’ll for­ever be re­mem­bered in New Eng­land for the most fa­mous stolen base in his­tory. He stole sec­ond base for the Red Sox in the ninth in­ning of Game 4 of the 2004 Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries, trig­ger­ing the great­est come­back in his­tory, over­com­ing a 3-0 deficit against the Yan­kees, and then sweep­ing the Car­di­nals for their first World Se­ries ti­tle since 1918.

“It is great com­ing back to this great city,” Roberts said. “I’ve got noth­ing but great mem­o­ries, even fly­ing into Lo­gan and just this time of year, this city, the leaves chang­ing. And then you drive up to Fen­way Park and it all just kind of comes back to you, 2004.

“This is a dream job for me, and I know speak­ing for him this is his dream job. So for us to play for a world cham­pi­onship, West Coast-East Coast, Dodgers-Red Sox, I just can’t see it get­ting any bet­ter.”

Where else could Roberts show up in an op­pos­ing city in a World Se­ries and be ab­so­lutely revered?

“He should be, he changed his­tory for this or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Red Sox vet­eran sec­ond base­man Dustin Pe­droia said. “If he doesn’t steal that bag, who knows what hap­pens?”

Said Cora: “He’s a hero in this city. He comes here, and he makes a lot of money sign­ing au­to­graphs. I know he puts (next to his au­to­graph) ‘The great­est stolen base in the his­tory of the game.’ He makes a lot of money in an hour.

“Prob­a­bly, he’s mak­ing money right now.”

The Dodgers play­ers couldn’t help but tease Roberts af­ter win­ning the Na­tional League pen­nant Oct. 20 in Mil­wau­kee. They gath­ered in a bar to cel­e­brate, and when they looked up at the TV, they kept see­ing re­plays of Roberts steal­ing that base 14 years ago off Mar­i­ano Rivera.

They started chant­ing, “Turn the Page! Turn the Page!”

Roberts couldn’t help but laugh, know­ing that in this tur­bu­lent sea­son, and man­ag­ing in the fi­nal year of his con­tract — with an op­tion for $1.2 mil­lion that has yet to be ex­er­cised — it has been aw­fully chal­leng­ing to please ev­ery­one while try­ing to win the Dodgers’ first World Se­ries ti­tle in 30 years.

You try telling Matt Kemp that while he might have been a start­ing out­fielder in the Al­lS­tar Game in July, he’s rel­e­gated to merely a pla­toon role the sec­ond half.

You try ex­plain­ing to for­mer World Se­ries MVP David Freese that you’re go­ing to pinch-hit for him in the fourth in­ning af­ter just one at-bat in Games 1 and 5 of the NLCS and in the third in­ning of Game 3 of the Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

You tell one of the great­est pitch­ers in franchise his­tory, three-time Cy Young win­ner Clay­ton Ker­shaw, that he won’t be start­ing in Game 1 of the

NLDS.

Roberts might have a dream team, filled with All-Stars, MVPs and a Cy Young win­ner, but there are times that it feels like the worst job in Amer­ica, try­ing to ap­pease all of the club­house egos.

“There’s so much tal­ent on one team,” Dodgers sec­ond base­man Brian Dozier said, “that the guys who aren’t in the lineup can be dis­ap­pointed. They can be pissed off. Every­body is so used to get­ting 600, 700 at-bats a year, but there’s no such thing as a starter.

“That’s why you re­ally have to swal­low your ego and re­al­ize that this team as­sem­bled is rather unique. What­ever we can do to pos­si­bly win a game we’ll do, but whether we agree with that or not, you have to buy that this is the best thing.”

Manny Machado, the Dodgers’ hired gun in July, says it’s cer­tainly dif­fer­ent in Los An­ge­les, where ev­ery­one knows your name, but no lineup ever stays the same. He praises Roberts for han­dling all of the egos in the room.

“Doc is a dif­fer­ent per­son, very en­er­getic, talks to the guys,” Machado said. “He’s just a good guy. He goes out and en­joys him­self, roots for his guys.”

While Cora’s bril­liant strate­gic moves this post­sea­son and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills all sea­son have drawn rave re­views in his club­house, Cora’s big­gest chal­lenge is paci­fy­ing a fan base that con­sid­ers any­thing less than a World Se­ries cham­pi­onship a dis­as­ter.

“Ev­ery­one loves him in here, bought in, and trusts and be­lieves in ev­ery­thing he says,” Pe­droia said.

“But this is a tough town. There’s a lot of pres­sure. They want cham­pi­onships.”

The Red Sox won a fran­chis­ere­cord 108 games, trounced the Yan­kees and Astros in the first two rounds, but if the Red Sox don’t knock off the Dodgers, guess who’ll be blamed?

“We’re just glad that we’re here,” Cora said.

That makes two of them.

DAVID BUT­LER II/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Dave Roberts has taken the Dodgers to the play­offs all three sea­sons he’s man­aged there, in­clud­ing back-to-back trips to the World Se­ries.

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