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Hinch, Cora set for opposing dugouts in ALCS

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- When Jose Altuve fielded a ground ball off the bat of Corey Seager in shallow right field at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 1 and threw to first baseman Yuli Gurriel for the final out of the 2017 World Series, Astros manager AJ Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora turned and shared an embrace in the dugout.

It wasn't too long after the team's World Series parade that Cora was off to Boston to become the manager of the Red Sox, taking with him World Series aspirations of his own. Now, if Hinch and the Astros want a return trip to the Fall Classic, they'll have to go through Cora and the Red Sox.

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HOUSTON -- When Jose Altuve fielded a ground ball off the bat of Corey Seager in shallow right field at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 1 and threw to first baseman Yuli Gurriel for the final out of the 2017 World Series, Astros manager AJ Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora turned and shared an embrace in the dugout.

It wasn't too long after the team's World Series parade that Cora was off to Boston to become the manager of the Red Sox, taking with him World Series aspirations of his own. Now, if Hinch and the Astros want a return trip to the Fall Classic, they'll have to go through Cora and the Red Sox.

View Full Game Coverage

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In an American League Championship Series filled with enough star power on both sides to fill out an All-Star team, Hinch managing against Cora is an interesting storyline in what promises to be a terrific series between the 108-win Red Sox and 103-win Astros.

"He was right next to me," Hinch said. "Obviously, the bench coach and the manager are really tight, and you go through a lot of different things from game strategy to prep. He took over a couple of games I got ejected from. I try to use our staff to the best of their ability, their skill sets. He's really good with players. He was a great liaison for me."

Hinch tried to hire Cora when he took over as manager of the Astros prior to the 2015 season. Cora was working as an analyst for ESPN and was interested in coaching, but not necessarily as Hinch's first-base coach. Rich Dauer ultimately was hired for the position, and Cora finally came aboard as bench coach in '17 to replace Trey Hillman, who went to manage in Korea.

Cora was beloved by Astros players while he was in Houston and still is after managing the Red Sox to their best regular-season record in franchise history.

"He was a great coach and he meant a lot to me," Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. "Obviously, he's from Puerto Rico, and I've known him for a while. Getting a chance to be with him last year was very special, and I learned a lot of things from him. He's a brilliant mind and he knows a lot about the game."

Astros outfielder George Springer said he can see Cora's fingerprints in how the Red Sox play the game with passion.

"He kind of oozes fun," Springer said. "He wants you to enjoy the game for what it's worth, but he understands you're not out there trying to fail. That makes you, as a player, go have a lot more fun. It's going to be fun to compete against him, and hopefully our team ends up on top."

Tweet from @RedSox: We ������ Alex Cora pic.twitter.com/E3cO4zaY50

Cora obviously knows a lot about much of the Astros' roster, especially core players like Correa, Springer, Alex Bregman and Altuve. But Houston's roster in the AL Division Series had a 40-percent turnover from the year before, so there are several faces on the Astros that Cora is not as familiar with. None of that matters much, Hinch said.

"He knows a lot about how we operate, but these are two completely different seasons," Hinch said. "We played each other seven times this year. I don't look at it any further than that. I know him well. He knows me well. Strategically, this is a completely different season. I saw him in Spring Training. That's just sort of getting ready for the season. I saw him early in the season. Saw him late in the season. Now, it's the postseason."

Video: Cora talks about his familiarity with the Astros

The relationship between Hinch and Cora has been a little more complicated. They argued like brothers at times while they were together in Houston, but that's not unexpected from two men who are both competitive, convicted and pushed each other.

Ultimately, Hinch was a champion for Cora to get the job in Boston because he believed in his baseball instincts and IQ as well as his boldness.

"When I think of one word about Alex Cora, I think of 'conviction,' and it's something he wears front and center every day," Hinch said. "He has his beliefs. He's very convicted. He's passionate, and I fed off of that a little bit. He fed off the things I bring to the table. He was right next to me every step along the way."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros