The absurdity of nine stolen bases begins with Alex Cora, who’s helping these Red Sox be more than they probably deserve




Red Sox

The absurdity of nine stolen bases begins with Alex Cora, who’s helping these Red Sox be more than they probably deserve
Alex Cora’s Red Sox remain in the hunt for a wild-card berth despite myriad injuries and an underpowered roster. Charles Krupa/AP

COMMENTARY

The Red Sox stealing nine bases in victory on Sunday night is profound absurdity. By sports standards, anyway. The modern world has inflated the international absurdity benchmark impossibly high, but who knows? Maybe Triston Casas refuses to give up the microphone and locks himself in the dugout bathroom sometime this week.

I speak for all of us when I say: Get well soon, Tristan. You’re fun to watch play baseball. But also, maybe don’t get well and keep doing this a little while longer?

I wouldn’t call the Red Sox week at large absurd, but you might. Boston’s middling, muckabout nine took two of three from each of two of the best teams in baseball — first against the National League-leading Phillies, then the MLB-leading Yankees.

“Like I always say, we’re gonna battle, we’re gonna make mistakes, we’re gonna win games,” manager Alex Cora told reporters, as he indeed often does.

Unexpected? Sure. But this is the sport that gave the world “small sample size.” Where the best team you’ve ever seen still lost 50 games and where we’re a couple years from a playoff berth being determined by a draw from a bingo hopper.

But nine stolen bases? Never mind the Red Sox, that’s happened four times this century, period. (Cincinnati did it last June, the only other since MLB tried to boost steal numbers before last season.) Six times since the berth of the wild card in 1994. Ten times since the end of the 1918 season.

There have been 20 perfect games since the end of the 1918 season. There have been 14 unassisted triple plays. It’s that rare.

That it was done by the Red Sox, for so long a franchise of lead-foot, double-clubbing sluggers, makes it doubly fun. The 1964 Sox were the stone standard: The AL’s best in batting average, No. 1 in doubles, No. 2 in homers … they attempted nine steals in their last 84 games. (Carl Yastrzemski led them for the season. He went 6 for 11.)

Terry Francona’s 2004 champions had nine stolen bases … in the entire month of June. Even Cora’s teams were hardly fleet before this season, second-to-last with 40 swipes in 2021 and fifth-to-last in 2022.

This season, of course, has forced adaptability. Both because of offseason roster construction and in-season plague. Jarren Duran has played every game this season. Ceddanne Rafaela has missed one. David Hamilton has been leaned on following the loss of Trevor Story.

All three are among the fastest players in the game. They run. Thus, the Red Sox run. Monday morning, they’re fifth in the majors (and tops in the American League) with 69 steals. Their 77 percent success rate is a tick below league average, but in the 13 games Boston’s swiped multiple bases, Boston is 11-2.

In five of those wins, the offense had two or fewer extra-base hits. It’s been a way to produce when production has been lacking.

To say nothing of compelling baseball watching. And the classic case of a manager getting the absolute most out of the ingredients in his kitchen.

Cora’s status going forward was a subject on discussion on Sunday’s broadcast, the ESPN crew almost all knowing him well from his time at the network. Their suspicions are in line with most everyone else’s that the manager is not long for Boston, with other opportunities awaiting him should his contract finish at season’s end, and even should he sit out 2025 to wait for something better to develop.

“Even the last two seasons where the Red Sox finished in last, they were competitive. They competed with a below-average team, and they continue to hustle out there for Alex Cora,” Eduardo Pérez mused. “The players relate to his personality, and you can see it on the other end as well.”

We locals can quibble, given both the 2022 and 2023 teams folded down the stretch after their trade deadline wishlists weren’t fulfilled, but it’s a relatively minor gripe about teams that were fringe contenders anyway. And the 2024 team’s seeming magnetic pull to the middle — Sunday’s win made them 37-35, Boston’s first time more than a game away from .500 since they were 26-24 on May 23 — shouldn’t erase that a lot more could’ve gotten a lot less from this collection.

There’s a spring in Cora’s step that simply hasn’t been present the last couple years. Part of it is health, as he’s discussed. Part of it is perspective, his place in the game’s graces again secured after his involvement in the Astros’ scandal.

Part of it is getting to be part of this team, a striving, driving group trying to make something of itself completely freed from expectation.

But part of it also is the knowledge he’s a few months away from writing his own ticket. Alex Cora can do whatever he wants at the end of this baseball season, in Boston or elsewhere. He’s got his rings. He’s got his bonafides.

Next comes when he decides it’s so.

Good for him. And good for us, because we’ve all experienced enough of the world’s brand of bad absurdity lately to appreciate the good kind.





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