HOUSTON -- It's difficult to imagine Alex Cora having a happier birthday.
The Red Sox manager guided his team to a 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, winning the franchise's 14th pennant and its first since winning the World Series in 2013.
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"The last out yesterday was like around 12:10, so we won two on my birthday," Cora said. "I'll take it."
Indeed, the marathon Game 4 didn't conclude until after midnight CT, while Thursday night's Game 5 concluded before 11 p.m. Cora has a lot more to celebrate than turning 43; he's the first rookie manager to reach the Fall Classic since 2001, when Bob Brenly did so with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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Brenly's team won a classic seven-game Series against the Yankees. Cora is hoping for a similar outcome against the winner of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Brewers, which Los Angeles leads, 3-2.
"We've still got work to do," said Cora, whose players sang "Happy Birthday" to him in the clubhouse during the victory celebration.
• Red Sox sing 'Happy Birthday' to Cora
Cora is the sixth manager to take the Red Sox to the World Series in his first season with the club. Of course, this isn't just his first season managing Boston; it's his first season managing anywhere.
Cora is just the third rookie manager to reach World Series in the expansion era (since 1961), after Brenly and Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees).
"Just his demeanor, you know, it doesn't change," said David Price, who rewarded Cora's faith in him with six shutout innings in Game 5 despite working on short rest. "I know it's easy to not change when your team wins 108 games in the regular season, but he hasn't changed one bit. Got two little twin girls that aren't letting him sleep; they aren't sleeping. Just for him to do what he's done for us this year has been sweet."
From Cora's bullpen management to his lineup decisions, just about every button he pushed this postseason has worked to perfection for the Red Sox. On Thursday, he removed Nathan Eovaldi after the eighth inning despite the fact that the right-hander appeared to be having his way with Houston's lineup.
"There was a chance that there was a Game 7, and we needed to be prepared for that," Cora said. "We knew the skinny guy [Chris Sale] was ready for Game 6, but in case there was a Game 7, it was going to be [Eovaldi]. No way I'm going to push him to lose him and then lose the game. That was going to be tough."
Giving Craig Kimbrel -- who has struggled throughout the postseason -- an opportunity to close out the game and test out the mechanical adjustment he had made the previous night was also likely in Cora's mind. What better way to bolster your closer's confidence than to let him stand on the mound when your team wins the pennant?
Cora's first season has been a bit of a fairy tale, but he reflected on his managerial interview with the D-backs two years ago, crediting Arizona general manager Mike Hazen for pushing him in the right direction to get where he is today.
"When they decided to go with Torey [Lovullo], he called me, he's like, 'It will be good for you to go out on the field; I think that's going to help you out,'" Cora said.
Cora joined Houston as AJ Hinch's bench coach, was part of a World Series winner, then took the Boston job.
On Thursday, Cora sent his former team home for the winter. He and his Red Sox will have a couple of days to decompress before opening the World Series at home on Tuesday in front of what promises to be an electric atmosphere at Fenway Park.
"AJ Hinch and that group gave me a chance to be with them, to grow up as a coach, to learn a lot from different aspects of the game," Cora said. "I'm very proud of that group. They had an amazing season."
Hinch lauded his friend for the job he's done during his first season running the show.
"It's not easy to take over a team in that market, in that setting and see the things that happen to that team and still come out with all the wins that he did," Hinch said. "Managing nowadays is not an easy job. And I know I laugh about it, but everybody thinks they're a really good manager. But to be able to command that clubhouse and lead a group of men to where he's going, he should feel very proud. I think his convictions, his demeanor, his personality that rubbed off on that team is something that I noticed and something that he should be proud of."
To hear Red Sox players speak of their manager is to know the fondness they have for Cora as a man and a boss. He may be in charge, but he's also one of them.
"That's what makes him special; his ability to communicate with us, relate with us," ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. said. "We feel like he can be one of the guys, but we also understand his leadership, his role, who he is.
"He takes control. He makes sure that we continue to keep pressing forward. He spoke about every single day, turn the page, turn the page, moving on to the next step, not dwelling on the past. What can we do for the present and what's going to help out for the future?"