By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s a widely held belief among some wise people that the smartest thing anybody can ever say is a simple three-word phrase: “I was wrong.”
After Monday night’s 16-1 victory in New York, Red Sox manager Alex Cora is looking like a very smart man.
It’s not that there is always a “right” and a “wrong” when drawing up a lineup and rearranging a starting rotation. It’s not a matter of painting by numbers, and oftentimes the “right” decision can still lead to a lack of success. But in the case of Cora, he admitted that some of the decisions he had made earlier in the series with the Yankees weren’t the best.
So, rather than stubbornly sticking to what he felt was best a few days prior, he made some changes. And it didn’t take long for him to look like a genius.
After the Sox scored seven total runs in the first two games of the series, Cora made three changes to his starting lineup. Brock Holt entered for Ian Kinsler. Rafael Devers entered for Eduardo Nunez. And Christian Vazquez replaced Sandy Leon.
That trio of contributors thanked Cora by coming through in big ways in the Red Sox’ blowout win in Game 3.
Devers led off the top of the second with a single in his first at-bat, and then he stole second base.
Albeit on some weak contact, Vazquez drove in Devers for the first run of the game, when he sent a slider back where it came from in the second inning. Luis Severino got leather on it but deadened the ball behind the mound, allowing Devers to cross the plate and give Boston an early lead.
In the third inning, Devers drove home the Red Sox’ third run of the evening. That was on a fielder’s choice to second base, but the results were the results.
Holt led off the seven-run fourth inning with a single, and he capped off that same fourth-inning with a two-run triple.
Vazquez also singled and score that inning. He also caught seven innings of one-run ball from Nathan Eovaldi.
All told, the trio of Devers, Holt and Vazquez combined to go 8-for-18 with seven RBIs and six runs scored.
And speaking of Eovaldi, he wasn’t supposed to pitch in this game. It was supposed to be Rick Porcello’s night. But Cora — with the built-in excuse of Porcello throwing 15 pitches in relief in Game 1 — switched things up and tabbed Eovaldi for this one. The veteran right-hander turned in the best postseason start by a Red Sox pitcher in years, going seven innings, allowing one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Against a Yankee lineup that was feeling pretty good coming off a three-homer night in Game 2, Eovaldi was lights out.
As for the offense, whenever runs score on plays like Vazquez’s grounder back to the mound of Devers’ softly hit grounder to second, it can be seen as blind luck. Yet Cora sort of predicted such events when he spoke about his decisions pregame.
“Hopefully we get [Devers] up and get a hanging whatever, and Raffy can hit one in the stands, and Brock can keep putting good at-bats. With Christian, his ability to put the ball in play is important,” Cora said, per Peter Abraham. “Obviously, Severino is a guy who goes to his slider. There’s a few things we feel we can do.”
Cora also noted that there was no number or stat that said he should insert Holt. But he did it anyway.
“I know what Brock, his numbers are. But obviously the way he swung the bat at the end [of the regular season],” Cora said when explaining the move.
Holt ended up hitting for the cycle, capped off with a two-run homer off catcher Austin Romine in the ninth inning.
After his premonitions were proven true, Cora didn’t exactly jut out his chest.
“Yeah, I mean, like I told you guys a few weeks ago,” Cora said after the win, “I’ll play the Powerball tomorrow and hopefully I can get it.”
Granted, whenever a manager makes significant changes to the original plan, he opens himself up to criticism that he had the plan wrong in the first place. But Cora, who’s shown no ego and has not once hesitated all year long to admit a mistake, didn’t fear that one bit. He made the changes that he felt were necessary to win Game 3. Every one of them worked, and the Red Sox are now one win away from reaching the ALCS.
Whether anyone considers him to have been wrong or right is likely irrelevant to Cora. Winning this game — and, of course, winning one more — is all that matters.