From dugout to ejection took about five seconds, just long enough for Alex Cora to get under the skin of home plate umpire Adam Hamari so deep the first-year manager would earn his first-ever early dismissal from a baseball game. Five seconds these Red Sox won’t soon forget, not as they continue to roll on in a historic season, not when they want to look back and remember that moment their leader went so public in their defense.
A second straight win over the Yankees, a 4-1 decision made easy by Rick Porcello’s complete-game, one-hit gem puts the Sox 7½ games ahead of their closest, most heated rival now. But on a night when Cora tried his best to pile the praise on his pitcher, it was the manager who made the loudest statement of all, standing up for his best player, sticking up for his entire team, and sticking it to the Yankees more than a little bit along the way.
To set the scene: One batter into the home half of the first inning and there was Cora, sprinting toward home plate, wildly objecting to the dual warnings Hamari had just issued to both benches, furious at the preemptive punishment for what he believed was a one-sided crime.
Yes, Rick Porcello had hit Yankees leadoff hitter Brett Gardner in the top of the first inning. But that was on an 0-and-2 count with no conceivable message behind it. When Luis Severino answered in the bottom of the inning with a head-and-shoulders pitch to Sox leadoff hitter Mookie Betts, Cora was furious, caught on camera screaming obscenities at Severino, caught up in defending a player he would later describe as “the best player in baseball,” caught in a frenzy he admitted was “not polite,” was “out of character” and for which he would later apologize to his family, after getting a phone call from his daughter.
“I didn’t appreciate them throwing at my leadoff guy and I didn’t like the fact that they gave a warning,” Cora said. “If they felt that way, that that pitch had intent, just throw him out of the game.
“I was upset at the whole situation. If they retaliated because we hit Brett Gardner on an 0-2 pitch that’s their problem. At the end we won the game, we move on, we’re going to show up tomorrow, we’re going to turn the page tonight, show up and play the game the way we do.”
But this is Red Sox-Yankees, where moving on is never quite that easy, where tensions rise and emotions simmer, ready to boil over at any moment. Maybe Hamari was right to waste no time telling both sides to cut it out. But Cora felt equally justified wasting even less time voicing his anger, not simply to let the umpires or the Yankees know how he felt, but to let his players know he had their backs. Is it any coincidence the home team responded so quickly, using an Andrew Benintendi double and another Steve Pearce home run to take a 2-0 lead after three batters, using an Ian Kinsler walk and stolen base with an Eduardo Nunez blooper to add a third run before the inning was over?
“We definitely got emotional,” Porcello said. “More than anything it probably fired us up. We definitely didn’t take it lightly. We didn’t like it.”
Porcello provided the strongest on-field case, but Betts’s surprise move to second base after the injury departure of Kinsler was additional evidence to how much this Sox team sticks together, how much it is ready to do whatever it takes to win, how much distance it is capable of putting between itself the nearest competitor. How much it follows the ethos of its leader, even when said leader is banished to an office watching the game on television, forced to leave the in-game machinations to bench coach Ron Roenicke.
“He’s been our emotional leader the entire year, he is our leader,” Porcello said. “He reacted and we followed and tried to take care of business on the field after he got ejected.”
I asked Cora if he thought his ejection fired up his team, and after a quick and decisive, “No. Nope,” I asked him why not. His answer seemed as much about the Yankees as it was about his Red Sox.
“They’re ready to play every day,” he said. “They don’t need quotes, they don’t need a manager to be ejected, they don’t need a race to show up every day and play the game the right way. We don’t need to have team meetings to fire them up. They know where they’re at, they know what they’re doing, and on a nightly basis I can sleep well because I know my team is going to show up and play the right way.”
Shots fired. Because while Cora sat back and watched his well-oiled machine churn through yet another dominant nine innings, the Yankees faded further into the background, fighting a faltering pitching rotation, searching for consistent offensive production while big bats like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez sit idled by injury, forcing an early Friday night confrontation no one saw coming.
“That was the first pitch of the game. I’m not going to hit anybody,” Severino insisted. “If I’m going to hit somebody, I’m not going to miss. I’m not trying to hit nobody. It was too close.
“First pitch of the game, if I got a [expletive] warning, it’s going to be surprising, of course. I wasn’t trying to hit nobody. I know Mookie. Mookie is a great guy. If I’m going to hit somebody, I’m not going to throw at the head. That’s not right.”
It sure didn’t sit right with Cora, who pulled the rare press conference walkoff by taking a parting shot at the Yankee ace. Asked if he thought this drama was over or whether it would carry into the weekend’s final two games, Cora said, “I don’t know,” before adding, “We scored four runs in less than six innings. Is that a quality start?”
With that, he pushed back his chair and headed for the door. Statement made, loud and clear.