By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There were very few times throughout the 2018 season that Alex Cora looked like a rookie manager.
In one of the biggest baseball markets in the country, with some of the most passionate fans and some of the most bloodthirsty members of the media, the moment never looked too big for Cora. That was the case in Game 1 of the regular season, all the way to Game 5 of the World Series.
And now, for the second straight year, Cora is celebrating a World Series title in Los Angeles. But this time around, he’s doing it as the head honcho, leading his Boston Red Sox to baseball’s promised land.
Cora won his second consecutive championship Sunday night as the Red Sox beat the Dodgers to take the 2018 World Series in five games. Last year at this time, Cora was celebrating with the Houston Astros as A.J. Hinch’s bench coach. This year, he was the one addressing his players in the visitors locker room.
It’s Cora’s strong bond with his players that separates him from other managers. He had the pulse of the Boston locker room the second he arrived for Spring Training in Fort Myers, and knew exactly which buttons to push to get the most out of the 25 players every day. They rewarded his confidence with a franchise-record 108 wins during the regular season, followed by a fairly dominating march to a title. The Red Sox beat a pair of 100-win teams in the Yankees and Astros before taking down the Dodgers in the postseason, making Cora just the fifth manager to win a championship in his first season on the bench.
It seemed like every move Cora made in October came up golden for the Red Sox. No one pegged Steve Pearce as a No. 3 hitter in a World Series lineup, but the veteran utility man ended up clubbing three homers and taking home MVP honors. And when people criticized Boston’s bullpen heading into the postseason, they probably had no clue that Cora had an ace up his sleeve. Boston didn’t have a setup man; they had rovers. Whenever Cora needed three outs to get to Craig Kimbrel, he confidently called on Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello or Nathan Eovaldi, starters by trade turned relievers by necessity. They thrived in their role, and Cora not only looks like a genius, but a genius who will soon have another World Series ring.
This one will mean a whole lot more.
After celebrating with his players Sunday night, which included getting dunked in a giant cooler by first baseman Mitch Moreland, Cora made sure to say how grateful he was of the Boston brass for giving a 42-year-old with just one year of experience one of the most prestigious managerial jobs in all of baseball.
“First of all, they gave me a chance. They saw me as a capable manager and they gave me a chance. It’s funny, because when they announced it, we were flying to LA last year between the Championship Series and the World Series, and ironic enough we win it here. So it goes full circle,” Cora said after Boston’s Game 5 victory.
While he certainly made it look easy from April to October, Cora said that was not always the case. He praised the work of president of baseball ops. Dave Dombrowski, who is celebrating his first title as an executive since he won with the Florida Marlins back in 1997.
“It wasn’t as easy as what people think. It starts with ownership. Everybody knows, they talk about we have the highest payroll in baseball. And that’s a challenge, the way they see us, the media and the fans. We have to win because there’s a lot of money involved,” he explained. “But they do an outstanding job giving Dave a chance to keep improving the team. They did it in the offseason. A lot of people thought that we were going to go one way, and we signed Mitch, which I thought it was a great move right away. A guy that not only is he respected in the clubhouse but he’s a good player. And we got him. And obviously we were patient enough with J.D. Martinez saga and he ends up with us. He adds [Eduardo] Nuñez and [World Series MVP Steve] Pearce and then [Ian] Kinsler and then Nate [Eovaldi]. A lot of people got on him because supposedly we didn’t improve our bullpen. But little did he know that we got a starter and a rover at the same time, just a matter of the usage we were going to give him.
“Dave did an outstanding job. He did great. I’m very happy that he finally got his second ring for Dave. It’s amazing,” said Cora.
A native of Puerto Rico, Cora has used his career in baseball to help the island after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria last September. He’s raised funds for relief efforts, and when working out his contract with Boston, asked the team to help with relief efforts, which they did.
Shortly after hoisting the World Series trophy above his head Sunday night, he had a new request for the Boston brass.
“Next thing I’m going to ask ownership is if we can take the trophy to my island,” he said. “That would be great.”
Cora expanded on his plans to WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on the field at Dodger Stadium.
“I can’t wait to get home. Obviously we go to Boston first and enjoy with everybody there, but like I said on stage, I asked for a plane of supplies for the people who suffered through Maria. Now I want another plane full of players and that trophy,” he said with a gigantic smile across his face.
Even in his moments of personal glory, Cora is always thinking about everyone else. It’s one of the many traits that made him such a great manager in his first season in Boston, and why so many believe even more good times are ahead for the Cora-led Red Sox.