BALTIMORE — Alex Cora’s Wall of Wins took an entire season to build. Not the photos themselves. But the moments frozen in time.
A year later, the memories still mean something, but it’s also a reminder of all the footprints on a long journey.
Cora was shuffling through packed boxes in his new office when he came across a gift from a friend back home. It was a block-shaped keepsake, the kind with phrases packed with just the right dosage of pith (“If everything’s seems under control, you’re not going fast enough”) and inspiration (“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further”) to remind them why they wake up in the morning.
When Cora read the message on the block — “Talent wins games. Teamwork wins championships” — a light bulb went off.
“I decided to take it out,” Cora said.
After J.D. Martinez blasted two homers and threw out a runner at home plate in the Red Sox win over the Orioles on Friday, the block was sitting above his locker.
Then Saturday, when Chris Sale got back to the visitor’s clubhouse after striking out 10 Orioles over six innings in a 7-2 win, the block was sitting above his stall.
“Some cool things going on right now,” Cora said. “We can’t share all the secrets.”
He didn’t have to. Michael Chavis spilled the beans.
“It’s just a little player-of-the-game thing we’ve got going,” Chavis said.
As they stretched their winning streak to four games and reached a high-water mark by getting to four games above .500 at 38-34, the message above Sale’s locker couldn’t have been more well-timed.
The Sox have scored 27 runs in the past three games, they’ve won six straight on the road, and they’re 4-1 at Oriole Park this season
“We’re still getting better,” Cora said. “We have our own goals, and to achieve what we’re planning on achieving, we’ve got to get to our smaller goals or short-term goals first . . . We’ve been talking about five over for a while. I think it’s been like a month, a month and a half. So we’ve got a shot now.”
Chris Sale continued the tear he has been on, dominating the Orioles with his ninth double-digit strikeout performance of the season. All nine have come in his past 11 outings.
The difference this time was the run support that allowed him to walk away with his third win of the season.
Over that 10-start stretch, Sale only left the mound with a lead four times, going 2-3. He didn’t have to worry about that Saturday.
While Sale was shredding through the Orioles lineup — two runs on six hits and one walk — the Sox scored three runs in the sixth to give Sale some breathing room. Xander Bogaerts stroked an RBI double to left, Brock Holt ripped a single to right that scored Bogaerts, and Sandy Leon stroked a ground ball to the left side that Orioles third baseman Hanser Alberto booted, allowing Holt to score and make it 3-0.
It was just the fifth time in 15 starts this season that Sale (3-7, 3.49), third in the majors with 130 strikeouts, received three or more runs of support.
“They control what they can control, just give us a chance to win,” Cora said. “He’s been pitching great and he hasn’t won a game. There’s been other guys around the league that they give up four or five in five innings and they get W’s. So that really doesn’t matter. He always talks about going out there as soon as possible and dominate. Tonight, he did a good job.”
He kept Baltimore quiet for the first five frames, stretching his streak of scoreless innings to 22⅓ going back to his May 31 start against the New York Yankees.
Even when he ran into turbulence in the sixth, giving up an RBI double to Renato Nunez and then a Jonathan Villar sacrifice fly that scored Trey Mancini, he struck out Keon Broxton to get out of the inning and preserve the lead.
“Good Lord, I’m glad I’m not on the other team,” Chavis said. “He’s special. Every day he goes out there, aside from the actual pitches and stuff he makes, just his essence and his presence on the mound is second to none. He doesn’t want to hit a ground out. He’s trying to strike everybody out and it’s awesome.
“He might not actually be trying to strike everybody out, but just how he goes about his business and how intense he is, I mean, I’m playing first base and I’m intimidated. It’s very impressive, to say the least.”
Martinez tacked on an insurance run in the seventh with a solo homer off Richard Bleier. It was his team-leading 16th of the season and his fourth in the past three games.
It was the eighth time he’s homered in three straight games, and the second time he’s done it this season.
“Wow,” Chavis said. “The thing that’s most impressive about him is the behind-the-scenes stuff. I mean, obviously, on the field he’s second to none. He hits for power, he hits for average, he stays within himself all the time. But the work and the dedication that he has behind closed doors — he leaves the field and watches video, he’s studying non-stop — I think that’s more impressive than what he does on the field because what he does on the field is different.
“Not only is he really talented, but he enjoys what he does and that’s what makes him so incredible.”
Marcus Walden (two strikeouts), Matt Barnes (three, around a single, walk, and two wild pitches), and Brandon Workman closed out the win.
The Sox padded the lead before Workman entered in the ninth with three runs via a Bogaerts sacrifice fly, a Holt single, and — when Holt broke to steal second — Rafael Devers raced home on Pedro Severino’s throwing error .
Cora’s message block will bounce around the Red Sox clubhouse, following them as far they go this season. It’ll be another way of marking all the footsteps along the way.