ANAHEIM, Calif. — Alex Cora, erudite leader of the Boston Red Sox, shaper of a World Series champion, bearer of modest perspectives and global empathies, is not above the dispositions of the calendar. Some days it blesses him. Others, it comes for him. Same as for everyone. The best he -- anyone -- could hope for is to see it heading in his direction, the latter in particular.
He is 43 years old. That is not, in this case, how the calendar hounds him. Rather, on this Sunday, warm and sticky on the final afternoon of an eight-gamer first through San Diego and Colorado, Alex Cora awakened to September. He smiled. September can be an overbearing and wolfish beast. September fills his clubhouse and his bullpen, fills his nights, sends him home exhausted and drags him back for more September. September from 5 games back, from 15 ½ games back, is a god-awful mucky slog. September is his only hope. Their only hope.
Today, it comes for him, for them all.
“It’s not impossible,” Alex Cora said Sunday morning, which, sometimes, is about the best you can say for September.
The Red Sox are a fine baseball team by most standards that aren’t their own, which is to say they do some things well and then they also have to pitch sometimes. David Price completed two innings Sunday, his first innings in almost a month, and the Red Sox promoted four other pitchers from Triple-A. Nate Eovaldi is back in the rotation and up to, as of his last start, 81 pitches again, and Rick Porcello’s ERA is under 5 ½ again, and the bullpen just had its best month, and maybe they’re getting somewhere and maybe they’re not, and maybe it wasn’t ever going to be enough without a hearty Chris Sale or genuine closer, and it is September so we’ll all know soon enough.
The Red Sox would board an airplane early Sunday evening for a flight back to Boston, where seven games against the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees awaited, so it is possible the Red Sox’s fate will be known not just in the broad construct of September but in the very precise hours of late Monday night, Sept. 9, when the Yankees will be clearing out from Fenway Park.
A year ago on Sept. 1, they were 7 ½ games out in front of the rest of the American League East, 50 games over .500, tapering starters and resting regulars. A year ago, September was a 15-11 layup, which preceded an 11-3 October, which preceded a very cool parade. Another one.
But, first, September, 26 games to become something they’ve not been, which is a whole, relentless and precise ballclub. Even then, even if the Red Sox pitch with any sort of abiding effectiveness, even if they continue to score runs, the past five months come with a cost. It might not be enough. When Cora goes for the throttle, there might not be enough under the hood.
“It’s not as easy as people think it is,” Cora said. “What we did in October last year, that was out of the norm. … You look back at the World Series champs or runner-ups, what we did, it was never done before. David Price was ready to pitch every day. Rick Porcello was ready to pitch every day. Nate Eovaldi was ready to pitch every day. Now? Over 162 games, there’s certain days you can do that, but the schedule will let you know when. And it’s not that easy. There’s stuff that we know that we don’t have to tell people about it. Hey, we gotta take care of these guys. It’s all in, but you gotta be careful. There’s no November coming up. We got September and October. So we gotta be careful with it.”
September, from 5 back, from 15 ½ back, doesn’t much care for one’s caution. Early on a Sunday morning, August behind him and his suitcase half-packed, Cora considered what lay ahead.
“I thought about the 2011 Cardinals,” he said.
Those Cardinals of Pujols and Holliday and Berkman and Carpenter won 23 of their last 32 games, began October as a wild card and beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
“And I thought about Joey in 1995,” he said.
Brother Joey Cora’s Seattle Mariners won 25 of 36 to come from 11 ½ games back and win the AL West, then advanced to the ALCS.
“[Jhoulys] Chacin mentioned something two days ago about the Brewers last year,” he said.
They were five back in the NL Central last Sept. 1, won the division and took the Dodgers to seven games in the NLCS.
“And we’ll take our chances,” Cora said. “We’re very talented.”
Sometimes it happens. It works. Sometimes it doesn’t work. The rest is November. And this is where a very settled Alex Cora resides.
“I’m human,” he confirmed. “There’s a few days that the kids go to sleep and I sit down on the couch and I’m like, ‘That didn’t work.’ But last year I did it too. So, what’s the difference? The difference is last year we were 50 games over .500 and this year we’re 10 games over .500.
“I’ve been telling people, five years, six years ago, for some reason, my life changed. I always said my family has created so much balance in my life. I know how big this is, being the Red Sox manager. At the same time, there’s bigger things in life.”
This time, Hurricane Dorian spared his native Puerto Rico. But it’s not done.
“Two days ago, three days ago, c’mon, it wasn’t easy to come here and think about, ‘OK, here we are again,’” he said. “But then, today, I got people in Florida too. And that thing is humongous. My mind is here but it’s over there. Hopefully everybody is OK. I’ve never seen anything like that. I thought Maria was huge, but this thing is kinda like perfect. You know, you see the pictures and you’re kinda like, wow. You know? And hopefully nothing happens.
“Look at the news yesterday and saw what happened in Midland and Odessa, and here for nine innings or 15 innings? I’m going to sleep well regardless of the result [of the baseball game], because I know there’s bigger things than baseball. I said it last year and I said it again. It’s just something I learned. Over 13 years, I told the guys, you know, for me it was a grind, playing 13 years in the big leagues. That thing of not hitting and playing in the big leagues, it was tough. How you gonna hit? And it sucked. It was a tough 13 years. I enjoyed it, but at the same time it was tough. But now? I’m going to enjoy this. This is fun. When I hear Mookie [Betts] and J.D. [Martinez talking] about their struggles and their grind, I’m like, ‘Try to grind .237 for a 13-year career. That’s grinding. .287 and 120 runs? C’mon, bruh. You’re that good. That’s a bad season? Go to 2000 when I hit .200. That’s tough right there.’”
He chuckled. At himself. At baseball. At the results of games that haven’t yet been played. At the people who will play them. He did not laugh at September, though. He laughed with September. It’s coming. It’s here. No sense making it mad.
“So that’s why,” he said, still smiling. “That’s why.”
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