One of the main takeaways from the 3-1 ALDS series win by the Red Sox over the Yankees was the managerial prowess of Alex Cora.
The first-year Boston manager seemed to possess a magic touch, deftly shuffling and reshuffling his lineup and pitching staff to elicit the best team performance. While the Red Sox won Game 3 by a lopsided margin, the other two wins over the Yankees were each decided by one run.
In those fine margins, a manager can make the difference. Here’s are eight examples of Cora pushing the right button in the first-round playoff win:
Using Rick Porcello out of the bullpen in Game 1: With the core of his bullpen struggling in the playoff opener, Cora chose a radical strategy. Plan “C and a half,” he later called it. The move was to bring in starter Rick Porcello – at that point scheduled to pitch Game 3 – to do what his bullpen could not: throw strikes. Porcello answered the call with two big outs, building a bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel in a 5-4 win.
Batting Steve Pearce third in Game 1: As a career .344 hitter against Yankees Game 1 starter J.A. Happ, it wasn’t Cora’s most controversial move. In fact, the Red Sox manager felt it would’ve been controversially not to have put Pearce into the lineup:
Cora: ‘If I don’t start Pearce, I might get fired today.’
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) October 5, 2018
Still, placing him third in the lineup was bold, and it paid off. Pearce drew a walk immediately in front of J.D. Martinez’s 1st inning three-run home run off Happ. He then hit an RBI single in the 3rd inning to increase Boston’s lead.
Giving Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez opportunity in Game 3: While Brock Holt might have received the headlines as Cora’s main lineup switch, Devers and Vazquez also entered the fray to deliver two hits each. Along with Holt, it helped to turn the lower half of Boston’s lineup into an asset.
Brock Holt starting over Ian Kinsler in Game 3: Not only did Holt step in and hit for the first cycle in postseason history, but Kinsler was substituted in later and – to no one’s surprise by that point – delivered a walk and a base hit, scoring two runs.
Ian Kinsler starting over Brock Holt in Game 4: After Holt’s heroic performance in Game 3, Cora unceremoniously sent him back to the bench in favor of Kinsler. It wasn’t a popular choice, but again, it proved the correct one. Kinsler continued his career trend of hitting well against CC Sabathia, ripping an RBI double in the third inning.
Nathan Eovaldi getting the start in Game 3: Following the disaster of David Price in Game 2, Cora’s choice of Eovaldi to start in Yankee Stadium would’ve certainly been critiqued had it backfired. Instead, Eovaldi continued his domination over the Yankees, allowing one run in seven innings as the Red Sox won 16-1.
Christian Vazquez catching Rick Porcello: The 28-year-old catcher hadn’t caught Rick Porcello since spring training. Not only did he prove adept behind the plate, Vazquez stepped up to hit what proved the deciding home run against Yankee reliever Zach Britton.
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2018
Chris Sale coming out of the bullpen in Game 4: Bringing in the team’s ace to protect an 8th inning lead with a trip to the ALCS on the line might seem in retrospect like an obvious call, but fans were uncertain in the moment. Sale’s scoreless inning quieted doubts.