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Cora nostalgic, competitive facing former team

Drawing on experiences with Astros, Red Sox manager hoping to dethrone World Series champs
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- For Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Thursday's reunion with the defending World Series champion Astros left him with a mixture of nostalgia and determination.

Cora will forever be grateful for the lessons he learned and the relationships he built in his one season as bench coach under manager A.J. Hinch. In fact, he admits that he probably wouldn't be ready to manage the Red Sox right now if not for that memorable year.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- For Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Thursday's reunion with the defending World Series champion Astros left him with a mixture of nostalgia and determination.

Cora will forever be grateful for the lessons he learned and the relationships he built in his one season as bench coach under manager A.J. Hinch. In fact, he admits that he probably wouldn't be ready to manage the Red Sox right now if not for that memorable year.

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But what Cora wants to do this season is beat the Astros when it counts most, because that will likely mean the Red Sox are playing deep into October.

"The team to beat in the American League? They're the world champs. They're the team to beat in MLB, yeah," said Cora.

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Having seen up close what it took to be the last team standing just a few months ago, Cora thinks he has a roster built to do similar things.

Cora brought some cornerstone young players on Thursday's lengthy bus ride, including Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rafael Devers. The way Cora figures it, those players want what the Astros have.

A year ago at this time, talented Houston players like Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer wondered what it would feel like to win a World Series.

"On the way here, I was looking at service time, and we have a lot of good players with three years of service time," Cora said. "And I was thinking about what the Astros have. We're in a similar position, but these guys have been successful, too -- been there, done that. So I know what I can help them with [to get there]."

The same lessons Cora learned while winning with the Astros last year are the ones he will try to apply in helping his players try to beat them this year.

"One thing I always said you can learn is to pay attention to details. And take advantage of certain situations that happen in the dugout, on the field, with that scoreboard, so that's something we're going to keep preaching," Cora said.

"I told the staff that that's something we have to do a great job of, because you win 60 and you lose 60, but the other games are going to decide if you go home and watch baseball or you play in October. But to win those 11 games in October, there's other stuff that goes on and we are going to be prepared for that."

In Cora's one year with the Astros, Hinch was a tone-setter from the start. The two men shared a couple of minutes at home plate as they exchanged lineup cards with the umpires before Thursday's game.

"We worked for it. There were some long nights," said Cora. "The first day of spring [last year], A.J. texted me at 4:45 in the morning to change a group from Field 1 to Field 2. That's how into his craft he is, how much he cares. They have a pretty good idea of what they want to accomplish and what they want to do as an organization. There's a lot of organizations who are following their lead right now."

As a bench coach, Cora gained an understanding of how an organization works from top to bottom.

"First of all, I learned how to connect with the front office, how important that is, how important the medical staff is. Then, obviously, you've got to connect with players," Cora said.

The final bit of closure between Cora and the Astros will be from May 31-June 3, when the clubs meet for a showdown in Houston. At some point during that series, Cora will receive the championship ring he was recently fitted for.

"Yeah. Big ceremony when we go there," quipped Cora. "I want [Astros coach] Alex Cintron to give me the ring before the first pitch, and A.J., too."

With the Red Sox staying on the east coast of Florida for another day to play the Cardinals on Friday, Cora and Hinch had tentatively planned on having dinner after Thursday's game. But Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski arranged a staff dinner that Cora will go to instead. His job has changed, and so have his loyalties.

"How quickly you become the enemy when you join a big team in the league," Hinch said of his former bench coach.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

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