By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com
Game 4 of the American League Championship Series was an instant classic. In victory, the relentless Red Sox proved their mettle, showcased their championship makeup, and pulled off one of the most dramatic finishes in recent October memory.
Red Sox fans should believe in this team now more than ever before. There should be no doubters now. That was a statement win if there ever was one.
But you should believe in the manager a little less, even in victory.
Alex Cora was a disaster in Game 4.
For as good as Cora was in the Yankees series, he was equally as bad Wednesday night. He nearly cost the Red Sox the game, and had things gone differently, the complexion of the series would have changed completely.
Nearly every move he made was wrong.
Cora stuck with Rick Porcello too long. His starter clearly didn’t have it and the move should have been made to the bullpen much earlier than it was.
He let the Astros back into the game as a result.
After the Red Sox took a 6-5 lead on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s home run, Cora curiously brought Eduardo Rodriguez out of the doghouse to face Tony Kemp as a situational lefty. Rodriguez walked Kemp, the only man he saw, before he was removed from the game.
Cora hasn’t played a lefty-lefty matchup all postseason, and decided that would be the appropriate time to convert Rodriguez from a long-man into a situational southpaw.
It didn’t work.
The lone correct moves Cora made came in the sixth and seventh innings, when he used Ryan Brasier for five outs and went to Matt Barnes with the tying run at second base in the seventh. Barnes struck out Tyler White, setting him up perfectly to pitch the eighth inning.
Except Barnes never returned.
Cora turned to the widely unreliable Craig Kimbrel for a six-out save, something his closer had never accomplished in his career.
That decision was a colossal mistake.
Barnes has been outstanding in October. He has not been charged with a run in six postseason appearances. He remains one of Cora’s two most reliable bullpen arms and has earned the right to handle the highest leverage situations in the game.
He threw only five pitches to White. The eighth inning was his.
There was no reason to give the ball to Kimbrel in Barnes’ inning.
Kimbrel has been anything but outstanding. The wild closer has allowed an astonishing 13 base runners in four postseason appearances, giving up one run or more in each one of those outings.
He’s been a tightrope act teetering on the edge of life or death.
None of us are here to watch the circus, but Alex Cora inexplicably gave us two innings of a three-ring spectacle in Game 4.
And he wouldn’t pull the plug. He was going to see the show out until the end.
David Price warmed.
He never came in. It gave me Grady flashbacks.
Thankfully, this game had a different outcome. The players bailed Cora (and Kimbrel) out.
If it weren’t for Mookie Betts throwing Tony Kemp out at second in the eighth inning, it might have turned out differently.
It if weren’t for Andrew Benintendi making one of the greatest catches in Red Sox history, it would have turned out differently.
And it would have been on the manager. He would have shouldered the blame for giving the ball to Kimbrel and refusing to take it away.
But it worked out in the end for the Red Sox.
A 3-1 series advantage looks a hell of a lot better than 2-2, especially since the Red Sox are now forced to turn to turn to David Price on three days rest just hours after he warmed up to appear in Game 4. The bullpen is beat up behind him and the Astros are starting their ace in an elimination game.
No matter. The Sox won Game 4, the game they had to win, and can afford to come back to Fenway Park with two chances to close the series out if they lose a game they should probably lose on paper.
The Red Sox are on the verge of the pennant, and Cora deserves a world of credit for getting his team to this position. He has changed the culture surrounding this franchise for the better. All and all, he has been a spectacular success.
But Cora nearly changed the trajectory of the ALCS with his in-game decisions Wednesday night. His All-Star talent saved the day.