New Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora looked at the rumors on his phone late last week, went to bed, and prayed it wasn’t true.
Yet when he woke up, the dream indeed became a nightmare.
The New York Yankees just landed National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
When Cora drove over to St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina’s charity golf tournament in Puerto Rico, there was a media horde awaiting him, ready to pelt him with questions.
“You could see them coming at me,’’ Cora said, “and the first thing I said, ‘I ain’t talking about Stanton.’”
Talk about a rude welcome to the notorious Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
The Red Sox may have won back-to-back AL East titles, and three World Series championships in the last 13 years compared to the Yankees’ lone title in 2009, but in this rivalry, division championships mean as much as Grapefruit League titles.
It’s why Cora and fellow rookie Yankees manager Aaron Boone have their new jobs, with the Red Sox firing John Farrell, and the Yankees dismissing Joe Girardi, handing over the reins to two close friends with no managerial experience.
Cora and Boone, former teammates in Cleveland, fellow ESPN expats and longtime friends, have no choice but to be archenemies.
“The expectations are way high,’’ Cora said, “and we know it, both of us. Boonie played in New York. I played in Boston. We understand what’s at stake. We played in the rivalry. We understand how it is.
“It’s a challenging situation, obviously. But I think if you would have asked us going into your first season as a manager, what would you like? It’s the opportunity to win a World Series. Not everybody can say that. And we both are in the same seat.
“So we’re welcoming the challenge, and for how much I like Boonie, I hopefully he finishes second.’’
The feeling, Boone proudly says, is mutual.
“Of course,’’ Boone says, “I’m looking forward to it. Obviously it’s an organization that we have a lot of respect for. They’re going to have another great team this year. I know Alex really well now, so us getting this opportunity is something I think we’re both looking forward to.”
It was Boone, of course, who contributed mightily to this rivalry in his own way. It was his walk-off home run in the 11th inning, on the night of Oct.16, 2003, in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, that vaulted the Yankees into the World Series and extended the Red Sox’s championship drought to 85 years.
Boone was the most hated man in all of Boston, and only when the Red Sox started winning titles, did Red Sox Nation finally forgive the man.
“Since the Red Sox have had success and won their championships,’’ Boone says, “it’s been a little more good-natured if you will. I don’t think if they had not won championships it would be so good-natured.
“But now, I don’t know if it will be warm anymore. Now that I’m actually trying to take food off their table, or wins off their board, I would say it won’t be as good-natured anymore.
“I look forward to being a part of that, and striking up a rivalry against a guy that I’ve been close to for a long time, and consider a friend.’’
Really, in many ways, this rookie managerial matchup will only add to the rivalry. Who outsmarts who? Who’s judged to be the better managerial hire? Who has the longest shelf life?
“It will be fun to watch when they go head-to-head,’’ said Los Angeles Angels GM Billy Eppler, former Yankees assistant GM. “That will be some must-see TV to see the gamesmanship, to see how the strategy unfolds. There will be some critical decision-making that goes on in their series that will be really fun to unfold.”
The back-page, tabloid-shouting, radio-talking question, however, will be whether they are prepared for that.
Boone has never managed a game in his life.
Cora has one year of experience as the Houston Astros’ bench coach.
That’s it, and they’ll be spending the entire season under a microscope, with everyone waiting to see if they can handle the enormous pressure.
“I think it’s overrated,’’ said Baltimore Orioles veteran manager Buck Showalter. “Aaron’s got plenty of experience in New York. Think about his pedigree with his dad and brothers and playing in New York. He was a great hire for them.
“And Alex has always been a great brain picker, so to speak. He and his brother (Joey) both, I talked to them a lot over the years. They have a thirst for knowledge and things to prepare. They’ll do well there because both of them will think about the weight of their words before they say things. They’ll have great player relations.”
They may be personable guys, and beloved by the media, but the fact that they got jobs without paying their dues, riding the buses in the minors, working their way up to the big leagues, will have veterans in the baseball industry hoping they fail.
It’s no different, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon says, than when Mike Scioscia hired him on his Los Angeles Angels’ staff when he never played a day in the big leagues.
“I had to fight through all of that crap about me not playing in the big leagues,’’ Maddon says, “and that was held against me by a lot of groups, by a lot of guys, buy a lot of very big guys.
“The best thing they can do is defending what you believe, and that’s going to be a challenge. If you do something different that doesn’t work, and someone’s going to be contradictory for all of the wrong reasons, the herd starts gathering against you and what you believe is right.
“It’s not easy. You’ve got to stick to that and defend that. You should never succumb to the herd mentality of thinking and have that change your views.
“That’s what you have to accomplish internally.’’
Boone and Cora won’t have to wait long. They play their first game against one another on April 10 at Fenway Park in Boston. The boos for Boone await. If the Red Sox start off slowly, Cora will be able to share the loathing.
It’s Boston-New York.
“The biggest challenge is for them to be who they are,’’ says Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, “and trust that. You’ve got to be true to yourself because I think that sometimes it can get a little blurred with expectations, and that’s a tough way to go when you’re chasing results.’’
Ready or not, here they come.