LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Sale got Manny Machado to flail and miss at a two-strike slider on Sunday night, the Boston Red Sox. At that same instant, Red Sox manager Alex Cora joined elite company.
Cora became the first rookie manager to win the World Series since Bob Brenly of the 2001 Diamondbacks. Overall, Cora's just the fifth skipper in big-league history to win the trophy in his first year. He joins Brenly, Ralph Houk of the 1961 Yankees, Eddie Dyer of the 1946 Cardinals, and Bucky Harris of the 1924 Senators. Beyond that, Cora -- a native of Caugua, Puerto Rico -- also became the first minority manager to win the World Series in his debut season.
"It wasn't as easy as what people think," Cora said after Game 5 of his elevation from Astros bench coach (and occasional Astros manager when A.J. Hinch got ejected) to Red Sox manager. "But it starts with talent. I mean, it starts with ownership. Everybody knows, they talk about we have the highest payroll in baseball. And that's a challenge, the way they see us, the media and the fans. We have to win because there's a lot of money involved."
This hints at something vital to any assessment of the job Cora did in 2018 -- there was a lot of pressure on him that in a real way didn't find a valve until that Sale slider to Machado. Cora was brought in to replace John Farrell, who guided the Sox to the 2013 championship and was let go after consecutive division titles. In part, Farrell's run came to an end because he was unable to advance past the ALDS round in 2016 and 2017.
Now consider that Cora and the 2018 Red Sox were confronted by the 100-win Yankees in the ALDS. If Cora's run ended there -- no better than Farrell was able to do and at the hands of the loathed Yanks -- imagine the blowback among Sox fans and their occasional enablers in the Boston media. That's pressure.
Then consider that Cora's squadron barged to 108 wins during the regular season. That kind of performance demands a championship. Nevermind that those 100-win Yankees and 103-win, reigning-champion Astros and then the plus-194 run differential Dodgers stood athwart those goals. If Cora's run peters out before the trophy is hoisted, then his team "choked" or what have you. That's pressure. Now imagine blowing that 3-1 lead they took into Game 5. That's pressure under that other layers of pressure.
In light of all that context, Cora's telling the truth when he says it wasn't as easy as what people think. All that history that came his way on Sunday night, it was earned.