Red Sox

Cora plans to walk fine line between friendship and authority

Cora plans to walk fine line between friendship and authority

BOSTON -- Alex Cora’s tenure as Red Sox manager may boil down to how well he can combine authority and friendship, balance camaraderie with control.

The two dynamics sound incompatible: friendship suggests equal footing among parties, authority implies the opposite. But what would a manager want except to know his players, and know them exceedingly well? If you can’t get the pulse of your people, you can’t make the best choices for your team. Keeping your distance is little help.

A commanding and charismatic presence at his introductory press conference Monday, Cora has been brought back to Fenway Park to connect (and ideally, connect more than his predecessor, John Farrell).

THE RED SOX HIRE ALEX CORA

The days of the authoritarian manager died a long time ago. The disciplinarians — if they’re in fact a different breed — are gone too, or at least, greatly evolved.

But the final say can’t go by the wayside for a manager, and therein lies the balancing act for the 42-year-old Cora. He was a beloved teammate as a player. He was a bench coach for a World Series-winning team and managed Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. But he’s never run the whole show himself.

It doesn’t sound like Cora is going to build relationships any differently than he did in the past. There are two ways to look at such a choice. Changing one’s approach to fit a job may be a mistake, because you should be yourself. At the same time, different jobs require different approaches, at least in some moments.

“Too close to players, that doesn’t exist,” Cora said Monday. “Throughout the learning process of the Houston Astros . . . it was special for me [with] Carlos Beltran. I played with Carlos Beltran, against Carlos Beltran when we were 17 years old and we played against each other in winter ball. We played together with the Mets, and we became good friends. I have a great relationship with Carlos, off the field with his family, [his wife] Jessica -- amazing. 

“Throughout the season, although Carlos was huge for the Houston Astros as far as the performance, it wasn't what we wanted. I had to be honest with him, and we talked and we were still close. The whole thing about drawing the line, they understand that. But at the same time they're human beings, man, and you've got to talk to them, you've got to see how they feel. I'm going to encourage my coaching staff to get close to players. 

"[Astros third baseman] Alex Bregman for example. We're cool. He probably thinks I'm his older brother and I probably think the same way . . . I was able to push him because you have a good relationship and they understand that ‘Hey, he's not doing it just to get on me, he's doing it because he wants me to get better.’ And that's what happened over there and I’m going to bring it over here."

Cora had relationships with plenty of others in Houston as well. Bregman and Beltran were two standouts. But another tightrope act shows itself here. Varying degrees of friendship can lead to perceptions of favoritism. No manager can equally love all 25 players (or realistically, 40-plus throughout a season). But a manager must be very conscious of, literally and figuratively, playing favorites.

Cora reminded everyone Monday how close he and Dustin Pedroia and are. But Cora did so while drawing a line in the sand.

“First of all, I want to make this clear: the relationship with me and Dustin Pedroia is going to be forever,” Cora said. “That relationship is always going to be there. I love that kid, I love his family, they've been amazing for us, and that's not going to change. As a player, I think Pedie always looked up to me as a mentor, as a teacher. This is not going to change. He understands that back in the day when he was hitting .120 and everybody wanted me to play every day, and he was not the Laser Show, I was the one supporting him, me and Mike Lowell. We trusted him and we were helping him out. 

“Nothing's going to change -- this kid, well he's older now. He has a bad hairdo, we'll talk about him shaving his head, too. He's going to help us out. Talking to him, he's very excited. He understands that I’m the manager and he's a player. But I'm looking forward to managing him, with the attitude he brings, with the passion he brings to the game. He can help us. All he can do is help. We need him healthy, that's the most important thing, but when Dustin Pedroia is healthy he can help any baseball team.”

Asked about David Price, Cora said he called the lefty before the World Series began and that Price was awesome. Cora talked to a few others as well, but didn’t have much time to go in depth as he was preparing for the Fall Classic.

On the Price matter, Cora chose not to re-litigate the past.

“For me it's unfair to talk about what happened last year,” Cora said. “It's in the past. I'm here to move forward. I'm here to move forward. Looking forward to talk with him. He went to Vanderbilt and Joey [brother Joey Cora] did too, so we have a connection. He's a talented kid. He singled-handedly almost beat us in the playoffs, and the way he threw the ball with conviction, I'll take that. 

“The whole clubhouse thing, we'll be fine. I think you guys know me. You guys know how I dealt with Manny [Ramirez] with all the situations. We tried to bring this thing together. We're going to be fine. I look forward to meeting him, honestly.”

When Cora was able to connect with Ramirez in their time together with the Red Sox, they were both players. The unknown is whether Cora can do what he’s always done in a brand new role, where equal footing is gone and hierarchy can't be ignored.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

The Baseball Show Podcast: J.D. Martinez on pace for monster season

The Baseball Show Podcast: J.D. Martinez on pace for monster season

Lou Merloni and Red Sox insider Evan Drellich debate and discuss some of the week's biggest Red Sox topics, presented by Twin River Casino. . .

0:22 - With a pair of homers on Sunday vs. the Orioles, J.D. Martinez continued his hot streak and is on pace to surpass the team's expectations of him. Lou and Evan discuss Martinez's power to all fields and how his hitting approach has had a positive impact on his teammates.

6:44 - Lou and Evan break down the ugly situations for Carson Smith, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Blake Swihart and discuss what the club can do to deal with the struggles of all three players.

13:40 - Evan and Lou go around the horn and look at a few headlines from around the league: Robinson Cano's 80-game suspension, the Cubs interest in Manny Machado and Dustin Pedroia's nearing return to the Red Sox.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

J.D. Martinez's 2 vastly different HRs lead Red Sox past O's

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AP Photo

J.D. Martinez's 2 vastly different HRs lead Red Sox past O's

BOSTON -- J.D. Martinez took plenty of ribbing in the dugout after slicing a short home run inside the Pesky Pole at Fenway Park.

A few innings later, he showed his teammates some serious power.

Martinez hit two vastly different drives for his first multihomer game with Boston, powering Eduardo Rodriguez and the Red Sox to a rare 13-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.

It was the most hits Boston has allowed in a shutout since at least 1908, the team said.

Signed to a $110 million, five-year deal as a free agent in February, the 30-year-old Martinez curled his first home run an estimated 324 feet around the right-field foul pole. He hammered his second - projected at 443 feet - to the deepest part of the ballpark, beyond the center-field triangle, for his 15th of the season.

"They were making me laugh," Martinez said, standing in the middle of the clubhouse with a smile on his face. "I said, `I've got to get even for some of the ones I hit in April when it was cold out and I thought I crushed some and they weren't even going anywhere.' They were definitely teasing me, but I'll take it."

When reminded about the distance of his second one, he said: "I let `em know."

Martinez drove in three runs, and Andrew Benintendi had a two-run homer among his three hits as the Red Sox won three of four in the series to improve to 6-1 against Baltimore this season.

Red Sox teammate Mookie Betts is impressed by Martinez's power to the opposite field.

"I don't know if anybody else can do what he does, so that's why he's one of a kind," Betts said. "He can also hit it out of any part of the park, too."

The Orioles got 13 hits but lost for the 15th time in 16 road games and dropped to a major league-worst 4-19 away from Camden Yards. Adam Jones had three of Baltimore's 12 singles.

"It's hard to get 13 hits and not score any runs," manager Buck Showalter said. "It's frustrating."

Rodriguez (4-1) scattered nine hits, struck out seven and didn't walk a batter in 5 2/3 innings.

Leading 1-0 in the fifth, the Red Sox chased David Hess (1-1) and took charge with four runs. Benintendi hit his shot into the Orioles' bullpen after Jackie Bradley Jr.doubled leading off.

Mitch Moreland doubled before Martinez belted his second homer of the day. His first came in the second inning.

Hess gave up five runs and eight hits over 4 2/3 innings in his second major league start.

"They definitely make some adjustments quick and you have to be able to adjust just as quick," he said. "That's a lineup that from top to bottom can do damage."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: 1B Chris Davis was out of the lineup because he's been struggling against left-handers, batting only .139 (5 for 36). ... Showalter said Jones exited in the seventh because he was sick.

Red Sox: Manager Alex Cora gave DH-1B Hanley Ramirez, in a 5-for-26 slump with no extra-base hits in his last six games, the day off "to work on a few things and keep him off his feet." ... Cora did the same for shortstop Xander Bogaerts, saying: "I think he only had like one off day since coming back from the DL." Bogaerts was sidelined April 9-27 with an injured left ankle. ... 2B Dustin Pedroia (recovering from offseason left knee surgery) was slated to be the DH in a rehab game at Triple-A Pawtucket.

LIKE AN INFIELDER

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski played a foul ball that sailed into his box behind home plate on the bounce, picking it up from a tabletop in front of him. Next to him was former Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans, who won eight Gold Gloves during his career.

DOUBLE THREAT

Martinez and Betts became the first pair of players in Red Sox history with 15 or more homers in the first 50 games of a season.

GREAT ENDINGS

The Red Sox improved to 14-1 in series finales.

UP NEXT

Orioles: RHP Andrew Cashner (1-5, 4.83 ERA) starts Monday in the opener of a three-game series at the Chicago White Sox.

Red Sox: After an off day, LHP Chris Sale (4-1, 2.29) pitches Tuesday at Tampa Bay. Sale has allowed three or fewer runs in all 10 of his starts.