Boone, Cora scout each other's rosters as Yanks, Sox battle in Boston

ByColey Harvey and Scott Lauber ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

BOSTON -- Fans here don't think much anymore about the home run Aaron Boone tucked just inside Yankee Stadium's left-field foul pole in October 2003.

The Boston Red Sox, after all, have won three World Series since then, including putting an end to their so-called curse a year after that American League Championship Series defeat.

But in New York, it's a different story. Virtually anywhere Boone has gone in the Big Apple during the 15 years following his 11th-inning walk-off that put the New York Yankees in another World Series, a stranger has had a story to tell him.

Just this past Sunday morning, on his way to the Bronx for the series finale against the Orioles, Boone, now the Yankees' manager, listened patiently as his Uber driver giddily recalled a bloody mess he made of himself the night of Game 7.

"He jumped over something and he cut his arm and stuff," Boone says, grinning. "He was pretty fired up."

Starting Tuesday night, Boone and his fellow first-year manager, Boston's Alex Cora, will attempt to keep their emotions in check as they battle for the first time in 2018. Ahead of the three-game set at Fenway, we caught up with the managers and former ESPN broadcasters to get their take on each other's teams, and on what they believe they'll bring to the old rivalry in their new roles.

Cora: 'We've got to wait and see which Stanton we get'

When the Astros -- with Cora as the team's bench coach -- visited Miami last May, Giancarlo Stanton was in the midst of a 14-game homerless stretch, the longest drought of his MVP season. He was particularly quiet against the Astros, going 2-for-9 with one double, two walks and four strikeouts.

But as Cora watched a Marlins game on television later in the season, he noticed Stanton had changed his mechanics at the plate.

"I know he made an adjustment with his front leg," Cora says, referring to Stanton moving his front foot closer to the plate than his back foot, making his swing more compact while maintaining his power. "I think he's more disciplined on the inside part of the plate now, and that's why he's been able to cover the plate more because he's been disciplined.

"We've got to wait and see which Stanton we get [this] week. These guys, they change a lot. For how great they are, they have their weeks that they're aggressive, others they're passive and others they're hitting home runs. Hopefully we get the aggressive ones. Obviously he's very talented. It's going to be very difficult, we know that. But I think you take a look at our [starting pitching] staff and it's a pretty good one, too. You've got to be ready, but we feel that we have the pitching to compete with them."

Stanton enters this series having gone 3-for-28 (.107) with 16 strikeouts in the Yankees' six-game homestand. He recorded two five-strikeout games this past week, drawing boos from the home crowd.

Boone: Betts/Boston's outfield is 'special'

Defense is what primarily jumps out at Boone when he scans Boston's outfield.

"They're really good athletes," he says.

One way to quantify that observation: outs above average. OAA measures fielding skill by accounting for the number of plays made and their individual difficulty. For outfielders, catches made while having to cover long distances can make for strong OAA numbers.

A pair of Red Sox outfielders had two of the seven highest OAAs in all of baseball last season. Mookie Betts ranked fifth among qualifying fielders, while Jackie Bradley Jr. tied for seventh with Cincinnati speedsterBilly Hamilton.

Part of what impresses Boone about Betts, specifically, is the way he can cover expansive spaces -- particularly at home.

"Mookie in right, especially in their building, with all the ground he's got to cover out there, that's special," Boone said. "Jackie can really go get it in center field. [Andrew] Benintendi is one of the young stars in the game.

"And these are guys that are good on both sides of the ball."

Betts has been the offensive hero of that trio in this young season, hitting .364 with three doubles and a home run.

Tackling Yankees 'tight end' -- er, slugger -- Judge

As enticing as the Green Monster must have looked toAaron Judgeduring his superhuman rookie season, it wound up having the effect of an emerald-colored wall of Kryptonite.

Judge homered in his first at-bat against the Red Sox last April 26 -- his birthday -- at Fenway Park. He didn't go deep again until his second-to-last at-bat there -- 86 plate appearances later -- on Sept. 3. Overall, he was 11-for-73 with two homers and 30 strikeouts against the Sox, who attacked him with elevated fastballs and cutters. Thirty-one percent of the pitches Judge saw from Boston were in the upper-third of the strike zone, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and he batted .097 and slugged .194 against those pitches.

But while pitching coach Dana LeVangie, the lone holdover from last year's coaching staff, figures to tap into that successful scouting report, Cora won't assume the Red Sox have solved the riddle of Judge.

"For whatever people think, he has his holes, but this guy controls the strike zone," Cora says. "He does an outstanding job of not expanding. At that stage of the playoffs, it's different and the stuff he was seeing [from the 2017 Astros] was tough. But he's a complete player.

"You know what really got my attention about Judge? The way he plays defense. He won one of the [ALCS] games defensively -- he robbed a home run, he got a ball in the gap. He's a great athlete. He can do a lot of stuff. He picks his spots running the bases. He's more of a complete player than what people think. He reminds me of [Green Bay Packers tight end] Jimmy Graham. He's that type of athlete. If he wanted to, he could be a tight end in the NFL."

About that new guy in the Red Sox's lineup ...

June 21, 2015, was an especially rewarding day in J.D. Martinez's career.

Not only did his Tigers win in convincing fashion that afternoon at Yankee Stadium -- a 12-4 rout -- but Martinez torched Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka for two home runs, and then hit another off reliever Danny Burawa.

Tanaka and Martinez will see each other again this week when the righty Tanaka pitches Wednesday. In barely two weeks with his new team, Martinez has already doubled, tripled and homered for the Red Sox.

Boone and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild are well aware of the big-fly potential Martinez possesses. They know 34-year-old vet Hanley Ramirez has that same capability, too -- "He's already got a couple big hits for them," Boone says of Ramirez.

But Boone's biggest concern is how dangerous Boston is once it gets runners on base ahead of Ramirez and Martinez in the heart of the order.

"It's a very athletic team," Boone says. "Kind of different than the old-school Red Sox that will kind of bash you to death. This is a team that's really athletic on defense and on the bases.

"They're going to be a tough matchup all year for us."

Cora on Sanchez: 'His at-bats scared me'

In their scouting meetings before the ALCS, the Astros spent considerable time talking about how they'd approach Judge. But another hitter drew almost as much attention.

To Cora, at least, Gary Sanchez was the hitter he feared the most.

And although Sanchez is off to a dreadful start -- 2-for-32 with no walks and five strikeouts, in addition to a cramp in his right calf that caused him to miss the past two games -- he still figures to get plenty of special attention from Red Sox pitchers this week.

"He's a complete hitter," Cora says. "He's the one, out of all the guys last year, his at-bats scared me. He stays on the ball. He hits for average. He controls the strike zone. He can hit for power. This guy, he can do it all."

And in a loaded Yankees lineup, Sanchez usually bats fifth. Imagine that.

"It's kind of like the idea of Xander Bogaerts hitting fifth for us," says Cora, his own lineup bringing a smile to his face.

Good luck -- you'll need it

On the morning of Opening Day, a group text message from Connecticut traveled to Toronto and Tampa Bay.

Longtime "Baseball Tonight" anchor Karl Ravech wished both Boone and Cora good luck in their debuts as big league managers.

Boone replied with his thanks to Ravech and best wishes to Cora, and the Red Sox skipper did the same. It's the last time they've had a chance to talk before this week. But at times throughout spring training, they picked each other's brains about how best to schedule workouts, deal with the media, and meet a host of other obligations that come with the manager's job.

This week, with Fenway Park abuzz, each will be in his own corner.

When Cora played for the Red Sox between 2005 and '08, the rivalry with the Yankees still had sizzle, but by then, it was a far cry from its frenzied zenith of 2003-04.

"I've been lucky that I played throughout my baseball career in some great rivalries: Miami-FSU, Miami-Florida, Dodgers-Giants and this one," Cora says. "It's always fun to play or be a part of it. I think J.D. [Martinez] put it this way talking about playing at Fenway, but for me, it relates more with Yankees-Red Sox: It's like Sunday Night Football. Everybody's watching it. So, it'll be fun to be part of it as a manager."

Both Cora and Boone agree that the rivalry has lost some of its luster in recent years, but they think the talent on both sides will make this new era of Yankees-Red Sox as competitive as it's ever been.

"Hopefully [he and I] bring stability in these positions," Boone said. "And not speaking for Alex, but I feel like my job is to help get these guys to perform at their best and put these guys in the best situations possible, create an environment to thrive and then hopefully allow them to go out there and be as good as players as we think they are."

Added Cora: "We're just two guys that, we're here, we're lucky to have these jobs and we're going to do our best to put our teams in position to win and we're going to have fun with it."