On his 97th pitch of the night, Eduardo Rodriguez retired the always-dangerous Carlos Correa on a sharp grounder to second base, finishing off the sixth inning of Game 3 of the ALCS just as he’d started it: with a 1-2-3 effort.
As he walked off the mound, Rodriguez knew his night was done. And yet he had one more strike to throw. Not to home plate, but to the opposing dugout, delivered in pantomime when he tapped his right wrist, hitting it just where an imaginary timepiece would be.
That, of course, is the same gesture Correa used in Game 1, when he memorably mouthed, “It’s my time,” after his tiebreaking, seventh-inning home run delivered the series opener to the Astros.
Rodriguez, riding high on the emotion of another glorious Fenway night — between his dominant effort and four more home runs from his lineup, including a third grand slam this postseason, the Sox took a 2-1 lead in the series — couldn’t help but mimic the show. His point? These Red Sox are pretty certain it’s their time, too.
The gesture quickly exploded across social media, fueled not only by the brashness, but by the immediate rebuke it earned. Not from Correa, who didn’t even appear to see it, or even anyone on the Astros bench. The anger came from Rodriguez’s own boss, Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
Perched at the dugout steps and clapping for Rodriguez as he headed toward him, Cora’s face quickly turned stormy when he saw what Rodriguez was doing.
“Hey — no, no!” Cora hollered, shaking his head in annoyance.
He still greeted his pitcher with a big bear hug, but the words he spoke into Rodriguez’s ear were not compliments alone. Cora has no desire to poke the Astros bear, no desire to inject rancor into a series featuring two teams that have plenty of past misdeeds to atone for with fans, no desire to change the impression of a roster he believes should and does pride itself on humility. That was the point Cora tried to make clear after the win.
“We don’t act that way,” Cora said. “We just show up and play and we move on. He knows. And I let him know.
“We don’t have to do that. If we’re looking for motivation outside of what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re in the wrong business. The only motivation we have is to win four games against them and move on in the postseason.”
Kudos to Cora, who is 100 percent right. But kudos, too, to Rodriguez, who was not 100 percent wrong. These are high-intensity, deeply emotional games, played by human beings who are allowed to get caught up in the moment. Leave the ridiculous penalties for taunting to the NFL. Baseball could use a little personality and emotion. That was the point Rodriguez tried to make clear afterward.
“It was something that was part of the moment,” he said. “But he just told me, I mean, like we don’t do that here. Stay humble. Just go out there and play hard every time.
“Like I said, I feel bad for myself because I just do that, you know what I mean? I will apologize to Correa if I see him in person because that’s not something I normally do, and it was just part of the game. That’s it.”
On that note, here’s one more person who deserves kudos: Correa. His comments to reporters when asked about what Rodriguez did:
“He did my celebration. I thought it was kind of cool. That’s the way baseball should trend toward.
“We talk about making baseball fun. We talk about baseball growing and more people coming to watch the sport, and you need things like that. You need to let the players have fun.
“I loved it, personally. I think the game should move in that direction where you can show emotions, be yourself, and keep it real.
“I feel like players should be more real and express themselves and have fun. I love every single bit of it.
“He pitched a great game. He threw six innings, struck out seven, he was nasty, his fastball command was great. Whenever you have a great performance like that against the No. 1 offensive team — and we were the No. 1 offensive team — you can do whatever you want.”
Correa had made it similarly clear that his Friday night message was not aimed at the Sox, but at his own teammates, of whom he said, “When the playoffs start, they always tell me it’s your time now to go out there, hit homers, this and that.
“They told me to hit the watch, and when I hit the homer — I did it in Chicago the first time on my own — and today they told me if you hit a homer, hit them with the ‘it’s your time.’ It just happened naturally there.”
Obviously, Rodriguez took it more personally. But after the postgame conversations, it sure doesn’t seem as if the moment will bleed into the remaining games of this series, however many are left. Still, who can forget how much the Sox remembered those popcorn-eating Rays after their Game 1 win in the ALDS, and how that perceived slight preceded three straight Sox victories to take that series?
Cora may not like it, but players will indeed find motivation wherever they can. And whatever Rodriguez was channeling Monday, it was working like a charm.
“Overall he was great,” Cora said. “It’s not like I’m mad at him. It’s like the twins — [I tell them] ‘don’t do that’. We don’t need that. He knows. He understands. We’re not that way. We talk about a humble approach, humble players. That’s who we are. We like to grind, we like to play, but we don’t do that.”
Until they do. And we’re here for all of it.
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