BOSTON (AP) — Alex Cora led Boston to a victory over the hated Yankees. Next up for the first-year Red Sox manager: The team he left after winning a World Series as a bench coach last season.
"I've been talking about them the whole season, so now we go," he said after the Red Sox beat New York 4-3 in Game 4 of the AL Division Series to earn the right to play the Houston Astros for the pennant. "Best of seven. They know me. I know them. It should be fun."
An infielder who spent 14 years with six big league teams, Cora was in Houston for one year before the Red Sox made him the first minority manager in franchise history — and one of its youngest, too. His first season is already a success, with a franchise-record 108 victories, a third consecutive AL East title and the team's first playoff series win since 2013.
Now he has to do it again — against his former boss, A.J. Hinch, whose Astros swept Cleveland in the ALDS. Games 1 and 2 are Saturday and Sunday before the series moves to Houston for three more, if necessary.
"I don't know too much about them. Just they have a good team," Cora said coyly on Tuesday night. "What they did to the Indians, that was impressive. It seems like they're playing their best baseball of the season at the right time."
And so are the Red Sox, thanks to Cora.
In his first postseason series as a manager, he seemed to make all the right decisions, like starting Brock Holt in Game 3 and seeing him hit for the only postseason cycle in baseball history. And then he put Holt back on the bench in Game 4 and watched Ian Kinsler come through with a key RBI double.
"We're very fortunate to have a guy in A.C., who is not very far removed from playing the game, which definitely helps," Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes said. "You have a guy who won the World Series last year, so he knows what it takes to win a World Series.
"It seemed like every button he's pushing is the right one. I think he's got a great feel for the game. He understands the game. He does a great job of managing and communicating with everybody on what's going on, and I think it showed in this series, and it will be awesome moving forward."
Hinch said he is happy for his former assistant, who was a sounding board on strategy and preparation and took over when Hinch was ejected.
"(I'm) trying to remember some things that I told him that I wish I wouldn't have," Hinch said Wednesday when the Astros worked out for the first time since learning their next opponent.
"The bench coach and the manager are really tight," Hinch said. "He was obviously right next to me every step of the way. As a bench coach, you're kind of involved in everything (but) maybe master of nothing when it comes to not being in charge."
Cora also served as a link to the players, a role that has served him well in Boston. Red Sox players — including a couple that were Cora's teammates when he was with the team from 2005-08 — praised the relatability of their 42-year-old manager after five years with the more traditional and distant John Farrell.
The Astros saw it as well.
"He was a great coach and he meant a lot to me," Houston shortstop Carlos Correa said Wednesday. "Getting to spend a full season with him last year was pretty special. I learned a lot of things from him. He's a brilliant mind. He knows a lot about the game."
Hinch and Cora have maintained a friendship through their year apart, even exchanging text messages through the first round.
That's going to stop.
"He's encouraged me. I've encouraged him," Hinch said. "The banter, the conversations will probably minimize a little bit over the next couple of days."
AP Sports Writers Kristie Rieken and Mike Fitzpatrick contributed to this story.
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