Alex Cora became the fifth manager ever to win a World Series in his rookie season with Boston’s Game 5 win over the Dodgers on Sunday night. He joins Bucky Harris (1924 Senators), Eddie Dyer (1946 Cardinals), Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees) and Bob Brenly (2001 Diamondbacks) to do so and he didn’t get there without some risky decisions.
Of course, all the talent and reliable players he was working with surely helped but Cora had been making decisions with his gut the entire postseason and he didn’t slow done just because he was managing in the most high pressure situation in the sport. Which is tough for anyone not just a first-year manager.
Maybe he had some moxie leftover from the Astros’ 2017 win (for which he was a bench coach) or from Boston’s 108-win regular season, or maybe his trust in the team was just that strong that he knew they could do what was asked of them no matter what. Whatever it was, it worked out. Here are all of the best decisions Cora made in the World Series.
Before the World Series even started, Cora added Drew Pomeranz to the roster, dropping Brandon Workman from the squad in favor of the lefty. He didn’t actually pitch at all in the series but that means he didn’t mess anything up so we’ll put this one in the win column for Alex.
Trusting Eduardo Nuñez
Eduardo Nuñez is not a favorite of many Red Sox fans, at least before he went all in to help the team win this series.
That started in Game 1 when Cora decided to have him pinch hit for Rafael Devers in the bottom of the seventh and Nuñez promptly hit a three-run home run to give Boston some insurance runs and make it an 8-4 game and all but seal the win.
Cora said of the decision after that game,
“Probably he was a little disappointed that he didn’t start because he’s been staring against every lefty. But we felt that Raffy was going to hang in there with (Clayton) Kershaw, and having him on the bench it was going to pay off ... He was prepared, he wasn’t upset actually that he wasn’t playing. I told him, ‘Be ready, man. You might have a big at-bat tonight and do your thing,’ and he did.”
Then, in Game 3, Nuñez left it all out on the field. Literally. There might be pieces of Eduardo Nuñez still at Dodger Stadium that will need to be shipped back to him in the offseason. Compare that to the usual error-filled defense and struggling offense and it was amazing to watch. If not a little wince-worthy too.
He didn’t come in until the top of the 10th inning but because the game went so long that meant he played eight innings of baseball anyway. First, he got flipped over by Austin Barnes during an at bat, then he hit an RBI single and injured himself again by sliding head first into the base. This is while already dealing with a bum ankle from the ALDS, by the by.
BOSTON SCORES IN THE 13TH!— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) October 27, 2018
Brock Holt scores on an Eduardo Núñez grounder to give Boston the lead in the 13th inning! pic.twitter.com/SxpWlDbuVQ
That lead wouldn’t hold, but Nuñez then did this in the 13th somehow. He made the catch but the bummer of the whole situation is that if he had just let it be, the Dodgers probably wouldn’t have scored later that inning to tie the game again.
Eduardo Núñez! What a catch going into the stands! pic.twitter.com/qCmYWp0LBy— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 27, 2018
Nuñez also had to continue playing the entire 18 innings because Boston ran out of field players on the bench and refused to put Drew Pomeranz at third base. Those cowards. This about sums it up.
This sums up Eduardo Nunez's night pic.twitter.com/nBWGcobz3x— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 27, 2018
He somehow came back and played in Game 4 even though by the end of Game 3 he could barely stand or run around the bases. But Cora was committed to him and it mostly worked out. It was at least entertaining to watch someone almost knock themselves out on a baseball field multiple times.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. over Andrew Benintendi
With the designated hitter out of the equation for the three games at Dodger Stadium, Alex Cora had a decision to make: how to shift his outfield to ensure J.D. Martinez’s bat stayed in the lineup. One option was to put Mookie Betts at second and keep both Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Andrew Benintendi in the outfield but he didn’t do that. Even though everyone wanted him to do that because it would have been so much fun.
Instead, he held usual second hitter Benintendi out of the starting lineup in Game 3 and the second-guessing began about whose glove would be most valuable on defense. But he went with Bradley in center, Martinez in left, and Mookie in right. And guess what ... it worked out! He tied the game at one with a home run in the eighth.
Then Benintendi came in in the ninth for one at bat, striking out. Even though they lost the game that particular lineup decision panned out.
Going all-in in Game 3
This is the one decision that, if Boston didn’t end up winning the series, could have come back to truly bite Cora. Instead of using Drew Pomeranz or asking Heath Hembree to go longer than an inning or cobbling together even more innings with the bullpen and all but handing the win to Los Angeles, Cora let Nathan Eovaldi go six innings and 97 pitches in the losing effort.
Eovaldi was all for it — he’s had two Tommy John surgeries and was ready to get a ring no matter what it too — and even though Max Muncy hit a walkoff in the 18th to take the game Cora’s instincts were right in the long run. Using Eovaldi to that extent still made him a folk hero, and it left Chris Sale fresh for the Game 5 start a few days later if they got through Game 4 okay and that was what Cora opted for. Thanks to Eduardo Rodriguez , they did that and things worked out nice and pat.
David Price starting the clincher
David Price, he of the horrendous postseason career until this year’s ALCS, started and won Game 2 of the series to put Boston up two games to none. Then he came in and relief in Game 3. Then, instead of putting Chris Sale on the mound to kick off Game 5 Cora went with Price on short rest. While it made sense for multiple reasons — Sale’s shoulder is apparently a “major concern” and they’d use everyone on normal rest if things were tied after Game 4 but that wasn’t needed — “David Price starting World Series clincher” still sounds weird despite his October turnaround.
“This puts us in a great position to cover everything. David right now, he’s throwing the ball well. He’s fresh as far as his arm, body-wise and arm-wise. We saw what he did a few days ago with velocity. We feel like a National League game, we might have to hit for him early, fifth inning or something like that.”
Of course they didn’t have to do that, with Price going a full seven and securing the win for the team. Trusting Price on short rest might not have been taking as much of a chance after he’d proved himself a few times already in October but it was still a chance.
Trusting Joe Kelly
In Game 2, Cora could have gone for Matt Barnes or Ryan Braiser out of the bullpen first. Instead, he called in Joe Kelly and Eovaldi to get the job done and they did, combining for three strikeouts and two innings of hitless, scoreless baseball. He continued to use Kelly, who looked sharp in the beginning of the season but became unreliable as the season went on thanks to tipped pitches or just a complete lack of control and confidence.
He allowed runs in both his ALDS and ALCS appearances, but in the World Series he was flawless. Five innings of works, including in the clinching games, allowing only four hits but keeping a clean sheet of runs and striking out seven. Whatever Cora saw in him once they got to the most important series of the season, he was right again. Kelly looked just as sharp as he did months ago.
Mitch Moreland pinch hitting
Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce, the Thicc Boys as we like to call them on this website, had quite the postseason. By the World Series, Cora knew that Pearce (eventual World Series MVP) was reliable and should be a consistent member of the lineup. He was, and he did with three home runs in the series including two in Game 5.
But Moreland, who went 1-for-8 in four games in the series, was less of a sure thing. Putting him in as a pinch hitter isn’t a guaranteed good mood. But Cora did just that in Game 4 and Moreland had his first and only hit of the series with a first-pitch three-run dinger to make it 4-3 and help Boston’s eventual comeback along. Once again, Cora was correct.
Alex Cora just has a sense of what works apparently, and it won him and the Red Sox another World Series title.