BOSTON -- What, you thought the magic wand of Alex Cora was going to wear off for the World Series?
The rookie manager continued his red-hot postseason by again pushing just the right buttons, even if he might have ticked off the Red Sox's eventual hero a little in the hours leading up to Tuesday's Game 1 of the Fall Classic.
But by the end of a wild night, Eduardo Nunez's frustration had turned to elation, and the Red Sox continued their October joyride with an 8-4 victory over the Dodgers.
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Nunez's dramatic pinch-hit three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the seventh was a liner that barely cleared the Green Monster, creating euphoria at Fenway Park and also a mob scene of excitement in Boston's dugout.
"I think that was the best feeling for a player, to see all the fans like that," Nunez said. "They paid for tickets to watch us play, and to have them going crazy in that situation -- I think that's a great feeling for us."
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With one flick of the wrists from a player who had been on the bench for the first 6 1/2 innings, a one-run lead had soared to four.
It was the latest example of how it is all coming up Cora this October.
With Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw taking the ball for Game 1, Nunez expected he would start at third base. That's the way Cora had played it the other three times the Red Sox had faced a lefty this postseason. But the manager felt that the left-handed-hitting Rafael Devers was the right call this time. The 21-year-old Devers ripped an RBI single to right against Dodgers reliever Ryan Madson in the fifth to make it 5-3 Boston.
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"When [Nunez] came in, he probably was a little bit disappointed that he didn't start, because he's been starting against every lefty," said Cora. "But we felt Raffy was going to hang in there with Kershaw. And having [Nunez] on the bench, it was going to pay off. You've got to keep a righty. [Steve Pearce] is playing. [Ian Kinsler] was playing. So keeping him in the dugout and out of the lineup was going to probably give us a chance to win the game."
So when L.A. manager Dave Roberts went to lefty Alex Wood with two on in the seventh, Cora and Nunez were both champing at the bit. They had the matchup they were waiting for.
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Nunez scorched a 1-0 knuckle curve that was low and out of the strike zone, and he hammered it with an exit velocity of 106.8 mph for a projected distance of 373 feet, according to Statcast™.
"Well, we talked early today, he explained to me what the situation was," Nunez said. "He told me he would have the left-handed hitter going against Kershaw. But I'm going to be prepared, seventh, eighth inning, late in the game, if they bring in a lefty for Devers. So that was the plan and we did it."
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It was just the fifth pinch-hit three-run homer in World Series history and the first since Bill Bathe roped one for the Giants in Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. Before that, you'd have to go back to Bernie Carbo's iconic blast for the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1975 Series, which set up Carlton Fisk's wave-it-fair game-ender. There has never been a pinch-hit grand slam in the World Series.
Seriously, though, who could have expected Nunez to join such rare company?
Up to that point, Nunez was 8-for-47 lifetime as a pinch-hitter (regular season and postseason) with no homers and one RBI.
Well, Cora expected it, because things like this keep happening.
Brock Holt hit for the cycle in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, then found himself on the bench the next day. Boston won anyway, with his replacement (Kinsler) getting one of the biggest hits of the game. Cora went with David Price on three days' rest in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, which seemed bold, considering the lefty was winless in his previous 11 postseason starts. All Price did that night in Houston was spin a gem.
And then Nunez happened in the seventh inning Tuesday.
"Well, I mean, we knew Nunez was going to hit a three-run homer there," said Holt, somewhat jokingly. "It's obviously why he put him in. I'm sure Raf would have done the same thing if he would have left him in, but he's been great all year, and we joke around with Alex because you guys always say he can't push a wrong button.
"After Nunez hit that home run, he came down into the cage. I was yelling at him, 'Hey A.C., man, everything you touch turns to gold!' He's been great, man. I think it's the communication thing that he does so well that helps us stay ready."
Cora is having a blast with the decisions he gets to make in October with the entire baseball world watching.
"I love it. It's a challenge," Cora said. "They're going to mix and match. They're going to pinch-hit, they're going to bring in their relievers. And you know how I say I hate managing the other team, but actually you have to manage them and see who they have, and where they're going to come in, and when it's going to be the point that the matchup is going to benefit us."
Perhaps the most important thing is that Cora isn't afraid to fail, which might be the reason he seldom does.
"I really don't care if they second-guess me," Cora said. "I prepare. We prepare as a group, and you make decisions."
The beneficiary of the latest one was Nunez, who swung his way into World Series lore. It was the first pinch-hit homer in Game 1 of the Fall Classic since a limping Kirk Gibson hit his fabled walk-off shot for the Dodgers against Dennis Eckersley in 1988.
"Yeah, I think he makes great moves," Nunez said of Cora. "He watches a lot of video. He's very smart. I think that he's the reason we're here."