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  • Even in a game decided by 15 runs, Monday's Game 3 in the Bronx fully displayed the managerial excellence and shortcomings of rookie skippers Alex Cora and Aaron Boone.
By Stephanie Apstein
October 09, 2018

NEW YORK — Brock Holt isn’t a big math guy, but he knows 1-for-15 against Luis Severino isn’t a great track record. So when Red Sox manager Alex Cora texted Holt Sunday night that he would start Monday’s ALDS Game 3 against the Yankees’ ace, Holt texted back: “Are you sure?”

Cora was. He generally is. And this season, the rookie manager’s gut—combined with his preparation—has generally paid off. On Monday he shuffled his lineup, starting Rafael Devers over Eduardo Núñez at third base, Steve Pearce over Mitch Moreland at first, Holt over Ian Kinsler at second and Christian Vázquez over Sandy León at catcher.

Cora was forced into the Pearce move when Moreland tweaked his right hamstring in Game 2, but for the others he relied partly on intuition. The three had combined to hit .086 against Severino in 35 at bats, but Cora liked the matchup. On Monday they were 2–for-4 against the righty and 8–for-17 on the night, including the first cycle in postseason history, authored by—of course—Holt. Boston won 16–1, handing New York its worst playoff defeat ever. Cora spent most of the game grinning in the dugout. 

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One hundred fifty or so feet away, the other man in charge was having a different sort of night. Aaron Boone, also in his first year as skipper, seemed to push all the wrong buttons on Monday. He could tell from the first inning that Severino lacked his best command, but no one began throwing in the Yankees bullpen until the first two men reached in the top of the fourth inning, with New York already down 3–0. Severino walked the No. 9 hitter on four pitches. The Yankees employ four devastating, fireballing relievers, plus one of the best closers in the game, but when Boone finally made a move, it was to summon starter Lance Lynn. With the bases loaded and no one out, Lynn walked his first hitter on four pitches, then allowed a bases-clearing double to his second. The Yankees went through three pitchers as the Red Sox batted around; Holt got halfway to the cycle in that inning alone. 

The real difference was evident not just in the results but in the way the managers discussed them. Cora spent last year as the Astros’ bench coach. Boone worked as a color commentator for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Boone explained that he had stayed away from his relief aces because he wanted to save them for later innings, and that he eventually conceded the game—catcher Austin Romine pitched the ninth—in favor of keeping everyone fresh for Tuesday night.

Cora reminds his team at every opportunity to “win every pitch.” He manages as though every game is winner-take-all. In Game 1, up two runs in the eighth inning, he burned planned Game 3 starter Rick Porcello because he feared his bullpen could not hold the lead. In Game 2, Cora pulled starter David Price after three runs and five outs. For all the calm he exudes in the dugout, the trait that defines Cora’s style is his urgency. The book on the Red Sox last year was that they were overly patient, almost hesitant. Last year they finished last in baseball with a 62.3% swing rate on pitches in the strike zone; this season they were second to the A’s among AL playoff teams with 67.8%.

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Even in early January, he sat down a long home run away from Fenway with rightfielder Mookie Betts and told him: You’re going to lead off for us. The first pitch of the season is going to be a fastball. You’re going to hit a home run. Betts fell a bit short—he drove the first-pitch fastball to the warning track—but Cora had set the tone. And the tone was set again on Monday. Leading off the game, Betts drove the first-pitch fastball to the warning track.

In a blowout such as Monday’s, it can seem as if there is not much managing to be done at all. But perhaps it’s all the managing that came before that leads to the blowout.

“The good thing around today is it’s one game,” Boone said. “As awful as a night as it was for us, we got to turn the page, and tomorrow’s obviously do or die.”

Cora smiled as he discussed his rejiggered lineup. “[I’ll] play the Powerball tomorrow,” Cora joked. “Hopefully I can get it.”

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)