The duck boats have made their way through Boston for the celebration of the greatest Red Sox team in history and while, at a major league high $228 million, you could also argue they were the best team money could buy, there is no denying this was a total team effort and a tribute to one of the greatest managing jobs in memory, by the pride of Puerto Rico, Alex Cora.
There’s no other way to look at it when you consider the Red Sox handily dispatched the Dodgers in five games despite likely A.L. MVP Mookie Betts hitting .217 with one RBI, Cy Young-contending lefty ace Chris Sale pitching only five innings with a yield of three runs and a homer, and closer Craig Kimbrel having a very subpar World Series (4.15 ERA, three hits and a homer in 4 1/3 innings).
In their place there was journeyman Steve Pearce emerging as one of the most unlikely World Series heroes ever, batting .333 with three homers and eight RBIs, Nathan Eovaldi, eschewing his regular spot in the starting rotation and saving the staff with six innings of heroic relief work in the epic 18-inning Game 3, and David Price, he of the $217 million contract and 1-8 previous postseason record, eradicating his image (mostly) as a surly, overpaid big game bust with a 1.98 ERA for two World Series victories, including seven strong in the Game 5 clincher.
Given the heroics of Price, Eovaldi and Pearce, it is understandable if Tampa Bay Rays fans might feel it is they who won the World Series. After all, they signed and nurtured Price through five terrific seasons until they were no longer able to afford him. They gambled with a two-year contract on Eovaldi after the Yankees released him in 2017 following his second Tommy John surgery, and they were one of six teams (including the Yankees) to have employed the 35-year-old Pearce for a spell before kicking him to the curb.
In retrospect, their in-season acquisitions of Eovaldi (from the Rays July 25) and Pearce (from the Blue Jays June 28, a month before the Yankees finally shored up their first base situation by trading for Luke Voit) wound up defining this World Series.
So, yes, it was a total team effort by the Red Sox, orchestrated by Cora, who brilliantly manipulated his pitching staff, interspersing his starters – Price, Eovaldi, Rick Porcello and finally Sale – as relievers and getting the most out of his bench with pinch hitters Eduardo Nunez and Mitch Moreland hitting critical home runs.
Even though the Red Sox won a club record 108 regular season games, because of their payroll, Cora may not have gotten the same support for manager of the year honors as, say, Bob Melvin in Oakland and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash, who did a lot more with less. However, his performance in the postseason clearly stamped Cora as one of the best managers in the game.
“Everything he did worked,” Eovaldi said. “He has a way of making you believe.”
That was no more evident than the selling job Cora did on Price, sitting him down at one point in spring training, and telling him that he was his guy and he had confidence in him to pitch in big games – like Game 5 Sunday night.
“I’m 33 years old now. The last time I was in this type of situation was when I was 23,” an emotional Price said after the game. “A lot of things have changed since then. To be able to come out on top and to contribute in October, that’s why I play the game.”
Forgotten for a moment was the anti-Price who cursed out and publicly embarrassed Red Sox icon Dennis Eckersley on a team charter last year and was routinely curt to the Boston media – until he was almost finished when he said: “I can’t tell you how good it feels to hold the trump card. You guys (the media) have had it for a long time. You’ve played that card extremely well. But you don’t have it any more. None of you do. And that feels really good.”
As for the Dodgers, they’re looking at a long winter of soul searching. Manager Dave Roberts’ decision to remove Rich Hill with a one-hit shutout after 6 1/3 innings in Game 4 (and then throwing him under the bus afterward) was perhaps the turning point of the Series. And with their “two platoon” obsession with analytics and matchups deciding their lineup every day – Kiki Hernandez hitting third in the potential elimination Game 5, really? – you have to wonder if that doesn’t have an effect on the hitters. Their 56 strikeouts (including the last six in a row in Game 5, were a record for a five-game World Series. Some would say fittingly, the last strikeout of the game was Manny Machado, who hit .182 for the Series.
While the Dodgers were striking out left and right, the Red Sox, a team that prides itself on putting the ball in play, hitting-and-running and, gulp, even bunting, scored 18 of their 28 Series runs (64.3 percent) with two outs. They will have a couple more days to savor this remarkable season – the victory parade in Boston is Wednesday – and then come the hard decisions for the front office.
Breaking up is hard to do, but Eovaldi (who especially figures to command a hefty contract), Pearce, Kimbrel and reliever Joe Kelly, who had a light’s out World Series (10 strikeouts, no runs, no walks over six innings in five appearances), are all free agents. And with Betts, who won a record $10.5 million in arbitration last year, up again, and Dustin Pedroia, hoping to come back from major knee surgery, still owed $40 million for three more years, it’s hard to see how the Red Sox payroll won’t increase even more.
“I’ve never had a more satisfying season,” said Red Sox owner John Henry upon hoisting the World Series trophy. “We invested a lot in this team and went beyond what we should have financially. But we have most of them coming back and we’re gonna be very strong again next year.”
Sounds like, for now, he doesn’t care.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.