As Eduardo Rodriguez walked off the mound, he couldn’t resist. He was a proud man. He had been through hard times — and not just your standard issue athletic adversity. Covid and myocarditis had taken him to a dark and scary place. The road back had been bumpy. Sometimes this year he was a dominant pitcher again; sometimes he was a nobody.
Now in the critical Game 3 of the ALCS, he had delivered the goods. After getting Carlos Correa to ground out, he had completed six good innings, a “quality start,” which was becoming a baseball relic. Buoyed by another offensive ambush, Rodriguez had delivered the Red Sox to the brink of victory. In that moment, soaking in the adulation from the home crowd, he couldn’t help but think of Correa’s Game 1 piece of manly arrogance, pointing to his wrist after blasting the go-ahead home run, saying that it was his time.
So Rodriguez did the same, a little piece of mockery, sweet payback.
In the dugout, Alex Cora wasn’t having any of it. He shouted at Rodriguez, and waved off the gesture emphatically. “No, no!” Cora said. “We don’t do that.”
Respect the game. Respect the opponent. Don’t give them any edge.
It was a message with a little bit of irony, to be sure. Because, of course, there was the whole Astros cheating scandal in 2017 with Cora — lest anyone forget — in the middle of it. It’s why he had to wear a scarlet A rather than his Boston B, sitting out for a year in shame. He had taken an unfair edge. Disrespected the game. Disrespected his opponent. It is part of his legacy.
But it’s a part that he has grown from. He has become a better man, the first part of becoming a better manager.
In this sweet Sox postseason, there was no moment sweeter than the celebration after beating the feisty, tenacious, Rays, in the ALDS, when his daughter, Camila, found him on the field, and they hugged and cried in the most beautiful way.
Afterward, Cora told MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, “She suffered a lot and it was my fault. And sometimes we make bad decisions, and I made a horrible decision in baseball and I paid the price. But what really hurt me was for them to suffer because of my mistakes.”
This was more than fessing up. In the best sense, it was “manning up.” It was coming clean. Cora was admitting a mistake and blaming no one but himself. That is a model for what an apology should be. That’s another lost art, the apology, like the sacrifice bunt and the quality start. (Cora is bringing all of those things back this fall with the retro, rejuvenated Red Sox.)
Last night was more classic Cora, showing the way to help an imperfect person become a better person — the best kind of teaching there is. As Rodriguez walked off the field, Cora shouted out his tough love, and then he embraced the pitcher in the dugout. It was a moment — second only to the one with Camila. It showed right there why the Red Sox have become so good.
Winning teams, of course, always point to chemistry to explain success. Whether it’s the chicken that comes first or the egg, who knows, but often that chemistry explanation is weak. You win a few games, and suddenly there is all this cheap stuff that gets thrown around about brotherhood, and teams as “families,” and all the boats rising when the tide does.
Still, you kind of know it when you see it for real. And here it is for real this fall with the Red Sox.
The biggest reason why is Alex Cora, the rarest of things in modern pro sports: the manager who is the star of the team.
It was not even a month ago when the Sox got swept by the Yankees and then somehow lost two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles. It seemed like a surprisingly good season was going to have a bitter end.
When they needed it most, though, the Sox found their corazon. They found it by entering the Cora Zone.
Led by their understated manager, they are breathing fresh life into the clichés. The whole is so much more than the sum of the parts. The Sox are making a hard game look so easy.
There is no guarantee, of course, that the magic will continue. No guarantee that the grand slams will keep swirling down like autumn leaves. No guarantee that Kiké Hernandez, a pretty good player, will continue being a combination of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. No guarantee that the team’s hitting will stay as contagious as any virus.
Right now the sailing is smooth. The boats are rising. The duck boats are revving up.
Alex Cora, however, is not tapping his wrist. It’s time for only one thing at this hour: getting ready for Game 4 tonight.