Alex Cora danced around Aaron Boone for the entire wild card game. This was one of his better coached games all season long. For all the hype of a Red Sox and Yankees, winner-take-all game, it turned out to hardly be a contest. And it all started with a near perfectly managed game by Alex Cora.
The Perfect Lineup
With J.D. Martinez unavailable with a sprained left ankle, Cora was able to get a better defense-oriented lineup in. It wound up paying huge dividends as Schwarber got the start at DH. He took Gerrit Cole deep in the third, which gave the Sox a three run lead, and sent Fenway into a frenzy. Martinez’s absence also allowing Kike Hernandez to start in center, collecting an assist on the play at the plate with Aaron Judge in the 6th. Both offensively and defensively, Cora’s moves paid off. However, pitching is where Cora’s moves really shined.
Nathan Eovaldi Did More Than Enough
The choice for starting pitcher was perfect. Nathan Eovaldi was nails. He struck out 8 through 5 and a third innings, allowing no walks. He threw one bad pitch to Rizzo and let up an infield hit to Judge. That was enough for Cora. A lot is made in the postseason about a manager’s decision to pull his starter. Just last year in Game 6 of the World Series, Kevin Cash was scrutinized all offseason about his decision to pull Blake Snell too soon. People said Eovaldi needed to go deep because the bullpen hasn’t played well down the stretch. However, you can leave a starter out for too long. Red Sox fans remember the 2003 ALCS Game 7 when Grady Little left Pedro Martinez on the mound against the Yankees a little too long. Cora trusted his bullpen, and it worked as Ryan Brasier got the final two outs of the inning. That wasn’t without a little excitement on the Stanton Single, but it worked out.
All The Right Moves
From then on, Cora was pushing all the right buttons with Tanner Houck in the 7th and Hansel Robles in the 8th both throwing 1-2-3 innings. Houck’s stuff was nasty, collecting 2 strikeouts. Robles came out in the 8th and retired the side quickly, including striking out Anthony Rizzo who had the big hit for the Yankees to that point. The Red Sox bullpen was putting pressure on the Yankees bullpen to remain perfect. That pressure would eventually get to them. After working 5 walks from the Yankees bullpen, the Red Sox offense grinded out 3 more runs late to distance themselves from their rivals.
Cora Sends A Message
Alex Cora called upon Garrett Whitlock to get the final three out of the night. Perhaps a little wink to the Yankees organization, as Whitlock was selected from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason. With the lead being what it was most managers would usually call upon a lesser guy to finish it. Not usually wanting to waste an arm as valuable as Whitlock’s. However, this is the Yankees, and Cora has never shied away from sending a message. Stanton did end up hitting a solo homerun in the 9th, but Whitlock quickly locked it down for the victory. Message sent. It’s now on to Tampa Bay to meet the Rays in the Division Series. But what a game it was for the Sox Manager.