CORA’S IN THE ‘CATBIRD SEAT’

Who wouldn’t want to be Alex Cora right now?  At just 43 years of age, the young Red Sox Manager is getting ready to start the 2019 season at the helm of a team that not only won 108 games in the regular season last year, a franchise record, but sailed through the American League Division and Championship Series, making short work of the reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros and one of the strongest New York Yankee teams in years.

If that wasn’t enough, they demolished the best the National League had to offer in five games in the World Series and would have swept them, in four, if the turf hadn’t given way under Ian Kinser, giving the Dodgers a new life, in Game 3.  At the end of the season, Cora must have thought it couldn’t get any better.

Guess what, things may have gotten better this past week.  How would he like to have that team back, almost intact, for the 2019 season?   The big headline was the signing of Mookie Betts, last year’s American League Most Valuable Player to a one year, $20. million contract.

Mookie, who everybody, except a few members of the media and about twenty people in California, recognize as the best player in baseball today will be back and, with the class he has shown since bursting on the Boston scene in 2014, he acknowledged his signing by tweeting one word GRATEFUL to the world.

As if that weren’t enough to make Alex believe things could get better, the Sox reached agreement for next year with Xander Bogaerts, $12. million, Brock Holt, $3.6 million, Matt Barnes, $1.6 million, Eduardo Rodriguez, $4.3 million, Brandon Workman, $1.2 million, sandy Leon, $2.5 million, Blake Swihart, $910,600. And Steven Wright, $1.4 million.

Of course, they had already resigned Free Agents Nathan Eovaldi, Steven Pearce and Eduardo Nunez.  J. D. Martinez is in just the second year of his contract, Chris Sale in the third year of his seven-year contract, David Price has opted to come back for the fourth year of his seven and Rick Porcello is signed through the end of 2019.  Add to that the fact that Dustin Pedroia is expected to be ready to come back to full time action and is under contract.

Many of the younger players, including Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Ryan Brasier, Hector Velazquez, Bobby Poyner and Brian Johnson haven’t even been around long enough to have qualified for arbitration yet so are locked in for the near future.

Then there is Craig Kimbrel, the Closer, who became a Free Agent and hasn’t signed with anyone yet.  It doesn’t appear that the Sox are too anxious to spend a lot of money to entice him back, but the way things are going with Free Agents, he might not be worth as much as he thinks he is.  Whether he comes back or not, Dave Dombrowski has shown he can be counted on to work his magic and come up with a replacement, even if he has to put Eovaldi in that spot and find another starter.

While the Red Sox have plenty of reasons to be happy, things were more subdued in Yankee land this past couple of weeks as the Yankee family mourned the loss of veteran pitcher and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyer.

Stottlemyre, who won 164 and lost 139 with an earned run average of 2.97, in 11 seasons, from 1964 until 1974, as a starter with the Yankees, was the Pitching Coach on a team that won four World Series between 1996-2005, through Joe Torre’s reign as Skipper of the Yankees. He lost a long battle with bone marrow cancer on January sixth.

At age 22, he won the first game he pitched as a Yankee on August 12, 1964, pitching a complete game against the White Sox in Chicago and won 9 and lost 3 down the stretch helping the Yankees to rally from third place to a pennant win.

In the 1964 World Series, after Yankee Ace, Whitey Ford, went down with an injury in Game 1, young Mel pitched a complete game victory in Game 2 against none other than the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson.  He came back in Game 5 and, despite giving up just two earned runs in seven innings, lost to Gibson.  In Game seven, with just two days rest, the Yankees had so much confidence in the rookie that they started him against Gibson again but, after shutting out the Cards for three innings, he gave up three runs and took the loss as the Cards won the Series four games to three.

He would win 20 and lose 9 with a 2.63 ERA the following year, one of three years in which he would win 20 or more.  His son, Todd would win 138 games while playing for five different teams in a 14-year career and his son Mel, would pitch briefly for the Kansas City Royals.

Mel Stottlemyre was one of the most beloved Yankees of all time and was honored with a plaque in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium in 2015.

Meanwhile, with only 24 days left before pitchers and catchers report, 34 days left until the first game of Spring Training between the Sox and Northeastern University at Jet Blue Park and 68 days before the Sox open up the 2019 season at Safeco Field in Seattle, Alex Cora must feel like he’s on top of the world or, as the Dodgers’ famed broadcaster, Red Barber, used to say, ‘In the Catbird Seat’.

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