It’s the second week of December, and I’ve fully digested the fact that my beloved 2021 Boston Red Sox came up just 18.0 victorious innings shy of their fifth World Series appearance of my lifetime— yeah, I know, what a spoiled brat the city of Boston has raised me to be. Four glorious October final outs, an overnight dynasty led by a QB who ages like Ashton Kutcher, Banner 17, and even a Stanley Cup, I never honestly cared to have in the first place. Then, in the blink of an eye, my sports life, well who am I kidding, my life life began crashing down before my very eyes— like going 7-20 in September with a $161,762,475 payroll. Tommy is living his best life in Tampa, Mookie’s in LA-LA Land, and the Celtics rebound (no pun intended) to the Kyrie breakup has directed them to shambles like a post-LeBron breakup. How ironic, right?
When all seemed hopeless down Jersey Street following a 2020 season filled with “yeah, who the H-E-double hockey stick is that guy?” and “do I even really wanna go back to Fenway at this point?”, there were brighter days to soon arrive— like, Amazon Prime delivery soon.
November 6, 2020— It would appear as though John Henry, Chaim Bloom, and the front office head honchos are not as tone-deaf as we initially thought after all. Just a quick photoshoot along David Ortiz Bridge, with the iconic Citgo sign in the back for Twitter, and Alex Cora was officially re-hired as the BoSox skipper. If they can’t cough up $300 million for Mookie, at least they can toss the fans a life raft for optimism, and that’s exactly what Henry and the crew delivered!
However, as Boston, very much so learned with Cam Newton, six games of Julian Edelman, and Bill Belichick, it takes more than just coaching to avoid finishing beneath Ryan Fitzpatrick. Alex Cora couldn’t possibly be enough to wash away the media and fan critical scrutiny, for what the thousands of cardboard fan cutouts were subjected to watching at Fenway in 2020, right?
Wrong. Well, just subtract the home-opening series against Baltimore.
Even putting Cora aside, this Red Sox team was written off, too by yours truly, regardless of who sat in the skipper’s seat. The reasons were there:
- Can E-Rod command a rotation as Cora’s Ace?
- Will Chris Sale be just a shell of himself when he returns?
- Is a bounce-back year at the plate in play for J.D. Martinez?
- Will the bullpen arms prove reliable and sustainable for 162?
- Will the front office invest in a postseason run if things go well by July?
- Will Cora’s managerial effect prove to be all-natural?
(Yes, no, yes, sort of, unfortunately, no, and absolutely!)
Eduardo Rodriguez, fresh off concerning health complications due to his stint with COVID-19, established himself as a moderately reliable starter since being acquired for 20.0 innings of Andrew Miller back in 2014. Being, at best, a C+ to B- level starter, with the task of commanding the starting rotation ship until Chris Sale can come back from rehab, is a severe-enough assignment as is. So, uhh… yeah. Not a hot start for the anti-Cora brigade, who we all know found watching the Sox from April-July to be as painful as falling from the crate challenge’s peak.
E-Rod, overall, held his own for the year. He delivered Cora 13 wins (tied for second-most in his career), 157.2 innings (second-most), and 185 total strikeouts (also second-most). E-Rod and Cora also gave Red Sox nation the Hallmark moment for Boston’s postseason demise— when in game three, Rodriguez mocked Correa’s “what time is it” celebration while walking off the mound— triggering a displeased Alex Cora from the dugout. Gut-wrenching to even recall, nevertheless an iconic player taunt.
(I’d say it’s Napoli-Tanaka tiered, certainly not Cabrera-Yankee Stadium tiered. That one’s GOATed!)
August 14, 2021— Chris Sale, fresh off Tommy John surgery in 2020, was undoubtedly the biggest of questions marks in that clubhouse entering the season. It was confirmed that Sale would be making his debut in the second of three against the Baltimore Orioles on the Saturday of that week. A late afternoon first-pitch start. Student 9s had sold out by 11 a.m. so I was all out of luck from securing my attendance. Consider that night a full representation for the 360 that saw 16 runs cross the board against the same team that walked out of Fenway with their brittle brooms over their shoulders after three games in April. Sale delivered a round of applause-worthy 5.0 innings with two earned allowed and eight k’s in the book— call it a mini Sale-day.
The patience of Chris Sale paid off for a late-season run that came at just about the right team for a team that looked like they were driving their season off a cliff from August-September. In seven-of-nine starts, Sale lasted at least 5.0 innings and allowed no more than three earned (once) within those very seven outings. Consider Sale’s 2021 as careful yet efficient conservation.
Tied, with E-Rod as numero uno, for the second-biggest question mark of 2021, was easily, J.D. Martinez and his follow up to an abysmal .213 batting average 237 plate appearances in 2020. The Twitter clairvoyants figured 2020 was Martinez’s final stop in the Silver Slugger conversation. With MLB banning in-game video before 2020, Martinez, baseball’s biggest in-game video proponent, was the poster child for the sudden reduction hitters were experiencing. In the end, 2021 was a vintage J.D. Martinez year. An All-Star appearance in July, .286 batting average, 28 dugout cart rides, I meant home runs, and a solid October highlight compilation.
(Consider the J.D. Martinez plate concerns about as legit as Bobby Valentine‘s stache in New York.)
One inevitable deterrent that could barely be described as “sustainable”, was the 2021 bullpen— featuring the likes of Phillips Valdez (never forgetting August 11), Darwinzon Hernandez (never forget game two at Houston), Martin Perez part-time (don’t even get me started), and unfortunately Hansel Robles (I think he was unfairly maligned! – Ed.) … thanks again, Chaim!
That unquestionably aged Alex Cora a couple of years. Having Matt Barnes, Garrett Whitlock, sort of Josh Taylor, so we’ll say half, make up the thread that just barely kept the bullpen afloat was a massive task in which Cora never allowed to interfere with a season he found promising.
Burning out Matt Barnes’ arm in June, to have the organization deliver Hansel Robles in July, isn’t exactly “ideal”. To have your very own front office essentially illustrate the same rhetoric that wrote out this team as just short of playoff contention, seemingly corners you if you’re Alex Cora.
Whether it was the residual effects of the Mookie departure or the Chris Sale naysayers, Alex Cora served as the front office safe haven for media critics. It was through Cora’s efforts that by July, the conversation surrounding the Red Sox was all in high regards— painting Chaim Bloom as the genius architect who knew all along that he’d constructed a pennant-contending roster for October.
The 2021 Boston Red Sox absolutely embodied and resembled what it was we knew all along about Alex Cora as a Manager. The Cora intangibles turned a “we’ll give em a respectable 84 wins” team to “holy (insert expletive) are these guys really going all the way??!!”.
And to think, we thought Alex Cora was done as a Manager.
Thanks to Gio Rivera for the article. Baseball with a New England and Puerto Rican twist