ANAHEIM, Calif. — A sense of perspective can be fleeting when you manage a team like the Red Sox. Every loss is a disaster and victories can feel more like a reprieve than a reason to celebrate.
That is particularly the case this season as the Sox are following up a championship season with a slow march to 85 or 86 victories and a seat on the couch for October barring a team in front of them collapsing
The Sox were so desperate for pitching on Sunday that three September call-ups were used for five innings in a 4-3 victory against the Los Angeles Angels.
But through it all, manager Alex Cora has maintained the same personality he did when the Sox were storming through last season. It’s what made him the right choice to manage the team in the first place.
Good managing is about keeping the players moving in the same direction far more than lineup decisions or pitching changes. The minutia doesn’t matter if the players don’t believe.
If you care to drill down on the details, the Sox used relief pitchers for 25 innings over three games here and won twice. They were 6-2 on the road trip and moved from 6½ games out of a wild card spot to five.
“We’re starting to play better baseball. The teams playing better baseball at the end of the year can make a run,” said David Price, who gave the Sox two scoreless innings on his return from the injured list then watched the bullpen hold an early lead. “For us to pick it up now, that’s pretty cool.”
The Sox play their next seven games against the Twins and Yankees, which will test Cora’s ability to get outs from worn-down relievers.
“There’s challenges every season,” he said. “I laugh when people say it was a magic carpet ride last year. There’s no Aladdin here. There was no magic dust. It was a good team that played good baseball.
“They had challenges and they showed up every day. We were very consistent at being consistent. This year the topic has been we’re consistent at being inconsistent.”
Cora delivered what he promised last season, finding a way to unify a group of talented players during the regular season then manipulating the pitching staff through the postseason to earn a championship.
That the Sox are unlikely to follow that with another trophy shouldn’t come as surprise. No team has accomplished that since the 1999 Yankees.
Bruce Bochy, Terry Francona, Tony La Russa, Joe Maddon, and Mike Scioscia are among the managers who couldn’t crack that code.
The Sox tried to take it easy on their pitchers in spring training and the result was a slow start, injuries, and poor performances.
“I learn every day. I learned last year every day, all the way to Oct. 28. I’m learning each day this year,” Cora said. “It’s a different season but it’s the same principles. People think that I’m going to change because of that? I believe in what I believe.
“I’m pretty confident in how to do things. I have conviction. If not, I’ll be home changing diapers with the kids and taking care of my daughter in Puerto Rico.
“I’m human. There’s a few days that the kids go to sleep and I sit down on the couch and I’m like, ‘Damn, that didn’t work.’ But last year I did it, too. So what’s the difference?”
Cora found balance in his personal life a few years ago and that guides his professional life. It’s the only way to survive.
“I know how big this is, being the Red Sox manager,” he said. “But at the same time, there’s bigger things in life.”
A few days ago, Cora was worried about Hurricane Dorian striking Puerto Rico and adding to the misery of Hurricane Maria’s damage in 2018. He wears a Puerto Rico-themed T-shirt under his uniform every day as a reminder of who he also represents.
“It wasn’t easy to come here and think about, ‘OK, here we go again,’ ” he said. “But then today I’ve got people in Florida, too, and that thing is humungous. My mind is here but it’s [also] over there and hopefully everybody’s OK.”
The 2011 Red Sox collapsed and let the Rays sneak into the playoffs. Joey Cora reminded his brother that the 1995 Mariners team he played for went 20-9 down the stretch and ended up in the ALCS after being counted out. Things can and often do happen in September.
“It’s tough to gain five games in five days but we’ll take whatever we can take,” Cora said. “We’ll be ready for Tuesday and keep doing what we’re doing. We can control only one team.”