Red Sox

Alex Cora's outburst with broadcaster a footnote or an omen?

Alex Cora's outburst with broadcaster a footnote or an omen?

After a season of discord for the Red Sox, Alex Cora’s job is to create stability. To reduce moments like Dustin Pedroia telling Manny Machado, “It’s not me, it’s them," and prevent another David Price-Dennis Eckersley confrontation.

But a loud misstep in Cora's time as the Astros’ bench coach opens a question of how effectively the new manager will prevent a repeat of the past. Not only the Red Sox’ past, but his own. 

In his first year as a major league coach, Cora lived a night with echoes of Price-Eckersley.

On Aug. 31, less than two months before he was named Sox manager and at a time of peak anxiety off the field, Cora cursed out Astros broadcaster Geoff Blum on a team bus heading from the airport to the stadium in Houston. When the bus arrived at the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, Cora went off again, screaming at his boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch. 

Both expletive-filled episodes were visible to a large number of the Astros’ traveling party. The confrontations were described to NBC Sports Boston by multiple people with direct knowledge of them, including witnesses. 

Whether the lack of self-control Cora displayed proves a footnote to Cora’s coaching career or an omen entering his first managerial gig is to be seen. 

Multiple sources said Cora had been drinking and that it contributed to his behavior. It is not uncommon for players or staff to drink on travel days. There is no indication Cora has a recurring issue controlling his alcohol intake. 

Cora declined comment on specifics of what transpired. Blum and Hinch declined any comment.

“You learn how to overcome. It happens on every team," Cora said. "People have disagreements. Sometimes it’s about life, sometimes it’s about the game. The good thing is that you work with people that you respect, and they respect you . . . You move on and you learn from it and you keep getting better.”

The situation did not become physical. A highly sought after manager, Cora felt embarrassed by his actions, and later apologized to both parties.

The circumstances the Astros found themselves in on Aug. 31 were complex and intense -- a statement true for every member of the organization. The Astros were returning to Houston and to their homes for the first time since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25.

As Houston came into view on the plane back from Florida, where games were temporarily relocated, some Astros had trouble seeing land because there was so much water everywhere, an unsettling moment. Everyone was worried about their family, their friends, and their city, as they began to see the devastation firsthand. In addition, Cora was greatly concerned about potential damage to his native Puerto Rico from Hurricane Irma, which would hit the island within a week. (The more powerful and destructive Hurricane Maria, which would not reach Puerto Rico until Sept. 20, had yet to form.)

Against that backdrop, behind-the-scenes friction between Cora and Blum boiled over when Blum, who played 14 years in the majors like Cora, asked Cora to turn down music on the bus. Curse words came at Blum for about five minutes. (Unlike the Price-Eckersley drama, Cora’s argument with Blum did not stem from commentary on air.)

Once off the bus, Cora lashed out at Hinch as Hinch tried to defuse the situation. The incident with Hinch lasted roughly another 10 minutes near the stadium’s loading dock, as both team buses -- one for staff, which carried Cora and Blum, and one for players -- disembarked. Former Astros outfielder and Yankees managerial candidate Carlos Beltran tried to calm down Cora.

“Between Harvey and [Irma], it was a combination of a lot of emotions on a personal level,” Cora said. “We’re flying everywhere, man, and then the team, we weren’t playing good [with an 11-17 record in August]. I learned that we can be -- honestly, honestly, on a personal standpoint, I learned that boys are boys, and it’s a family and you’re going to have your good days and your bad days."

Cora did not point to the fact the Astros won the World Series to downplay the incident. 

“We were one game away from losing against the Yankees [in the ALCS],” Cora said. 

Rather, as Cora explained it, the incident mattered afterward only because the result was a tighter bond with Hinch.

“Our relationship grew up and it got better, and hey, man, my biggest supporter throughout the whole process, who was it? It was A.J. Hinch," Cora said. "Because we slipped at one point doesn’t mean it was over. I think families, and friends, they got moments. And it was a moment. And it wasn’t a great moment . . . If we lose to the Dodgers (in the World Series), it was going to be the same thing. That whole month of October, with him, he was not my mentor, but he was the guy that I was looking up to throughout the process.”

A manager can be emotional and successful, Cora believes. Yet, there’s the adage that the manager need be the steadiest guy in the room, the most even-keeled. 

Cora plans to encourage emotion in his players. When he played, he feels he was too buttoned up, despite a famous moment in his time at the University of Miami, when a walk-off home run ended the College World Series in a loss and Cora crumpled to the ground in disappointment.

"I encourage guys to be passionate about it and show emotion,” Cora said. “I was the other way around. And sometimes I regret that. I didn’t have as much as fun on the field . . . It goes with the era I grew up in the game. And it’s not just my playing years, but before that. Following [my brother] Joey and his career, winter ball and the way he was."

Alex’s m.o. in a non-playing leadership role is still taking shape. Cora said that during his time in winter ball in Puerto Rico last year, and then during the World Baseball Classic in the spring, he found himself more publicly reserved than he had been in the past.

"I think A.J. showed more emotion than I did, throughout the [Astros’] season,” Cora said. "I think the whole year was a learning process of trying to stay calm. At the same time, inside, I was enjoying the whole thing.”

Anger has a different time and place for expression compared to, say, joy or anxiety. Asked if it would be okay for a manager to react the way he did on Aug. 31, Cora reiterated he learned from the situation.

The Red Sox presumably would have liked to discuss the events of Aug. 31 with Cora during the interview process, but they didn't know the events happened until NBC Sports Boston reached out to the team, sources confirmed.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski declined to discuss his interview process.

“He’s our manager, we’re thrilled that’s he’s with us,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve had some tremendous managers around me that lost their cool at times. And I think every situation’s different. When I’m not there, it’s hard to evaluate different things.”

The Sox moved quickly to make a hire so they could land a top candidate, announcing Cora’s arrival 11 days after announcing John Farrell’s firing. It’s the Sox’ responsibility to know everything about their new manager, but, at the same time, it’s difficult to gather every detail in a short window.

A mistake like Aug. 31 in Cora's new role would be problematic, given that his job here is to defuse tension.

“I’m very comfortable with the way I do things,” Cora said generally. “We just got to wait and see, man. Right now we’re in a stage, that I know that the organization, everybody is connected and talking and looking forward for what’s going to happen.

“I’ve been able to learn about guys and talk about guys, and the most important thing [of late] is the coaching staff. Connecting with them and getting ideas from them.

“All that stuff is going on right now, so I have no idea how I’m going to be. I know what I want. I know what I want from this team. From the coaching staff. From the medical staff. Analytics staff, everybody. You name it, I know what I want from them. But until Feb. 14 starts, we have no idea.”

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In appreciation of Brock Holt, whose job with Red Sox might be gone, but whose legacy is secure

In appreciation of Brock Holt, whose job with Red Sox might be gone, but whose legacy is secure

The transactions came in quick succession as the winter meetings wrapped on Thursday in San Diego. First, the Red Sox selected infielder Jonathan Arauz from the Astros in the Rule 5 draft. A couple of hours later, they inked infielder Jose Peraza to a one-year, $3 million deal.

Both are utility infielders, and their arrivals increase the likelihood that we'll be saying goodbye to Brock Holt this winter. 

From a bottom-line perspective, it's hard to argue. Holt turns 32 in June, has battled injuries the past four years and should make more than $3 million annually on a multi-year deal. The Red Sox need to get younger and cheaper, and that includes the bench.

If this is it, though, Holt deserves more of a sendoff than a line in the transaction wire, because his impact on the field, in the clubhouse, and especially in the community far outstripped his modest 5-foot-10 frame.

From high school (where he barely broke 100 pounds as a freshman) to junior college to Rice University to the major leagues, Holt beat long odds each step of the way. That a throw-in acquired with Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan before the 2013 season could earn Rookie of the Year votes and then make an All-Star team defied reason. That the same player would hit for the cycle not once, but twice -- including in the postseason -- while winning two World Series and becoming a gritty heart-and-soul fan favorite, let's just say guys hit that lottery maybe once in a generation.

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"I know and I've kind of gotten a taste of it coming here that certain players just really seem to bond with the fan base," said new baseball boss Chaim Bloom. "He's certainly been one of those. That's not something that's lost on any of us."

Holt brought a fun-loving energy to a clubhouse that needed it in good times and bad. Boston can be a meat grinder even when things are going well, and supporting players who take the edge off are essential. Kevin Millar mastered that role in 2004, while Jonny Gomes followed suit in 2013. That was Holt's job, too, whether he was serving as Andrew Benintendi's All-Star publicist, re-christening the 10th month on the calendar as Brocktober, or wearing a Cobra Kai-inspired headband around the locker room that others soon copied.

Holt had a knack for cracking up his teammates. After Mitch Moreland's three-run homer delivered the team its first win of 2019 in Seattle, Holt sauntered past Moreland in the clubhouse with an ice cream cone, gave it a lick, and said, "Hey Mitch, my mom says, 'Way to go,'" and then just walked out. (His mom later confirmed this account on Twitter).

He famously asked a shorts-wearing Bill Belichick if he was, "going to put some pants on," before facing the Packers on a cold October night in 2018 when the Red Sox were honored by the Patriots as World Series champions.

The night he completed the first cycle in postseason history with a ninth-inning home run to complete a rout of the Yankees, the megawatt smile on Holt's face as he rounded third and returned to the dugout could've powered the sun.

Holt's joyful persona extended to his toddler son, Griff, a glasses-clad Instagram star who developed a cult following for giggling while raiding a box of Life Cereal in the pantry, or pointing at a billboard of David Ortiz and exclaiming, "Big Papi!" or hitting what he called, "Big bomb!" with an oversized whiffle ball bat.

Holt's many viral moments with his son became all the more poignant when viewed through the lens of his tireless devotion to children's causes. He's a four-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee for community service, and he routinely leads the Red Sox in charitable appearances. He served as Jimmy Fund captain for the past five years, and his Brock Stars ticket program brought a Jimmy Fund patient to every Tuesday home game for batting practice. Director of community relations Sarah Narracci has long referred to Holt as her "go-to guy" who never says no.

"He has a great heart," manager Alex Cora said when Holt was nominated for this year's Clemente award, and if this is indeed the end of Holt's Red Sox career, he'll leave an outsized legacy that "5-10, 180" doesn't begin to capture.

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MLB Rumors: These six teams pursued Martin Perez before Red Sox landed him

MLB Rumors: These six teams pursued Martin Perez before Red Sox landed him

Martin Perez is no Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. But the veteran left-hander reportedly drew a good amount of interest in free agency before the Boston Red Sox scooped him up.

A "handful" of MLB teams, including the American League East foe Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, pursued Perez before the Red Sox agreed to terms with him Thursday night, MassLive's Chris Cotillo reported.

Perez's surface-level stats aren't very inspiring: The 28-year-old posted a 5.12 ERA with the Minnesota Twins last season after the worst campaign of his career with the Texas Rangers in 2018 (6.22 ERA, 1.78 WHIP).

But what Perez does provide is durability: He's appeared in at least 32 games in three of the last four seasons, topping 165 innings in each of those campaigns.

Durable left-handers aren't a dime a dozen in MLB, which explains why Perez drew interest from several clubs looking to fill out their rotations entering 2020.

The Venezuela native should be a rotation-filler in Boston, projecting as Boston's fifth starter behind Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi with Rick Porcello leaving to join the New York Mets in free agency.

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