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Hey Mookie Betts, Alex Cora knows that feeling, too

Red Sox manager Alex Cora knows a thing about hitting home runs, too.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The drama of Mookie Betts capping a 13-pitch at-bat against J.A. Happ on Thursday with a grand slam brought back memories for Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

He flashed back to his days in a Dodgers uniform in 2004, when he won an 18-pitch staredown with Matt Clement by smashing a two-run homer.

The call from legendary Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully was still vivid — even if it wasn’t particularly flattering.

“Actually, Mr. Scully said, ‘Alex Cora, 0 for 2 with two fly balls. When you don’t have power, you’re wasting your at-bats,’ ” Cora recalled. “That’s what he said.”


Even as the tension mounts, Cora said, he remembered both he and Clement being locked in.

“It’s still you against me,” Cora said. “I don’t want you to beat me. I want to beat you. But the fans get into it, the pitch count gets into it, and it’s really like, ‘No, you’re not getting me now.’ And it’s the same way with the pitcher.

“Matty made some great pitches in that at-bat, and I was barely fouling them off, just like Happ [Thursday]. Probably, I don’t know, most frustrating for the pitcher, because you made a pitch that you thought, that’s it right there, and somehow you fouled it off. It’s like, ‘Gosh, you know?’ ”

Benintendi on leave

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi was placed on the bereavement list Friday following the death of a family member.

He will be away from the team through the weekend and is expected to rejoin them after the All-Star break.

The Sox called up Sam Travis from Triple A Pawtucket to fill the roster spot. This will be Travis’s second major-league stint after getting the call for four games last month.

In 57 games with Pawtucket this season, Travis is hitting .224 with 6 homers and 20 RBIs, but over his past eight games, he’s hit .346 (9 for 26) with 2 homers and 3 RBIs.


“Swinging at strikes. Not chasing,” said Cora of Travis’s upswing. “They say he’s not as pull happy as he was early. That’s a good sign. Spring training, he was driving the ball to right center, he was very disciplined. He got away from it. Now the past few weeks he’s been back to doing that.”

Travis was slotted at DH, hitting seventh in the order.

First baseman Steve Pearce, who left Thursday’s game with a left shin contusion after being hit with a 94-mile-per-hour fastball from Happ, was out of the lineup Friday. He was available to pinch hit, Cora said, but is otherwise day-to-day.

With just three days before the All-Star break, Cora decided to be cautious with Pearce.

“We’ve been taking care of everybody here physically,” Cora said. “So we know how important he is for us, so staying away from him yesterday was good. Why push it? We’ve got three more days in this first part, so we’ve got to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Checking standings

The Sox are the only team in baseball history to win 66 games before the All-Star break, but they were still just 3½ games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East.

The largest lead they’ve had on the Yankees this season was four games in April.

So even though they came into Friday with the best record in baseball, Cora said they keep a close eye on the standings.


“We better pay attention, because we know that’s a good team,” Cora said. “It is a race, we know that and every day counts.”

The Sox are 30-12 against AL East opponents, but they’re 4-5 against the Yankees. They dropped two of three in New York earlier this month and Cora said he and Yankees manager Aaron Boone joked about when one of them would give the other some breathing room.

“When I went over there, I joked with Boonie, I said, ‘When are you going to lose five in a row?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m waiting for the same thing from you guys,’ ” Cora said. “It’s cool. I think it’s good for baseball. We know where we’re at. They know where we’re at. I’m a baseball fan anyway, so I know where everybody’s at. But I think it’s good. We pay attention.”

Welcome to Fenway

The first wave of international signings in the Red Sox’ amateur free agent class of 2018-19 already has made its way to Fenway — albeit years from the time when, in a best-case scenario, the team hopes they’ll be ready for the big leagues.

Three Red Sox international prospects, including Dominican center fielder Eduardo Lopez, spent Friday afternoon at Fenway Park while finalizing their agreements with the Red Sox. This year’s Red Sox international class is characterized by two notable factors: First, the team has a number of physically formidable outfielders, and secondly, rather than using their international cap space on a select few players, the team has taken more of a volume approach thus far to this year’s signing class, which opened July 2.


Lopez, a switch hitter, is the best known of the prospects, having signed for a bonus (as reported by Baseball America) of $1.15 million. Assistant GM Eddie Romero described him as “an athletic center fielder with kind of an advanced approach to the game in general. Obviously, all these guys, we start scouting very early, but there was a poise and maturity to the way he plays. He’s able to make the game look easy and slow it down. We really like the swing from both sides . . . He’s a true, overall, above-average player with a lot of smarts.”

The Sox also reached agreements with three other outfielders out of the Dominican: Bryan Gonzalez was added for a reported bonus of $500,000, Alberto Feliz for a reported $400,000, and Giancarlo Santana, the cousin of Padres center fielder (and former Red Sox prospect) Manuel Margot.

Bogaerts rolling

With 14 homers and a .522 slugging percentage, Xander Bogaerts has completely leaned into the idea of tapping into his full potential as a power hitter.

He’s already hit four homers than he did last season, his slugging percentage is up 119 points, and he’s piled up 41 extra-base hits through 76 games after hitting just 48 in 148 games a year ago.

“He got the message,” Cora said. “We know that Xander can hit .300. He can go the other way whenever he feels like it, but now he’s trying to do damage. That’s the most important thing.”


Much of that damage has come with two strikes. While he’s hitting just .233 with two strikes, he’s hit five homers and driven in 30 runs.

“The thing with him, he’s so good with two strikes that he will put the ball in play,” Cora said. “In an era that they pitch up in the zone, that’s where he gets them. “

Pomeranz encouraged after start

Drew Pomeranz (forearm) allowed three runs in 3⅔ innings for Pawtucket on Friday night in his third rehab start. He had two 1-2-3 innings but allowed a run in the second on three singles and a two-run homer in the fourth. “I felt good today. I felt probably the best I’ve felt this whole time, made pitches when I needed to,” Pomeranz said. “I gave up a home run there, whatever, just trying to throw a strike [in a] 3-0 [count] and the guy swings. It’s a different game pitching down here. But that’s the best I’ve felt the whole time.” . . . On the disabled list since July 8 (retroactive to July 5) with left hip inflammation, Brian Johnson is on schedule to return Sunday and start in the series finale against the Blue Jays. Cora said Johnson should be able to go five innings. In 24 appearances this season, Johnson is 1-2 with a 4.23 ERA. He’s made three starts this season, going 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA.

Staff writer Alex Speier contributed to this article. Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.