Even before he assumed his role as manager of the American League All-Star team, Alex Cora had deep roots in Cleveland.
He spent parts of three seasons with the Indians, hit his first big-league homer for the team, and developed a deep understanding of the game from teammates Sandy Alomar and Jim Thome.
“Those guys taught me how to be a big-leaguer,” he said. “This is where I started to understand big-league baseball.”
Cora, who last year became the fifth rookie manager to win a World Series, picked Justin Verlander to start the game, ending a three-year streak by Boston southpaw Chris Sale.
“He’s getting better, which sucks for us,” said Cora, who played for five teams in 11 seasons as a back-up infielder. “It’s a pleasure for me to give him the ball.”
The second Puerto Rican pilot in baseball history (Edwin Rodriguez managed the Marlins in 2010-2011), Cora is now in his second season as manager of the Boston Red Sox. The team won a club-record 108 games last year before besting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
Dave Roberts, manager of the Dodgers and the National League, joined Cora in a kickoff press conference Monday to announce starting pitchers and lineups and to tackle a myriad of media queries.
Both All-Star pilots professed disdain for a new rule that would place automatic runners on second base in every inning during every contest that exceeded the regulation nine.
“I’d rather see 9 innings of baseball,” Roberts said, “I would rather not see (the rule) in play tomorrow.”
Cora concurred. “I’m with D.R.,”he said. “I like the game the way it is.”
Like it or not, the game is changing: more power, fewer balls in play, and a much younger cast.
There are 36 first-timers and 19 players aged 25 or younger. “This is probably the youngest All-Star roster in history,” said the 47-year-old Roberts, who is four years older than Cora.
Roberts surprised the gathered media at the Huntington Convention Center when he announced a lineup that had Venezuelan slugger Ronald Acuna, Jr. batting ninth. Acuña, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, not only leads off for Atlanta but hit a club-record eight leadoff homers in 2018.
Not surprising was Cora’s pick of a starting pitcher. Verlander will be making his second All-Star start, returning to the mound where he had an unsuccessful major-league debut for Detroit. In recent years, however, he’s done better, winning 214 games, second in the majors behind CC Sabathia.
Cora was a coach for the Houston Astros team that won the 2017 world championship after acquiring Verlander from the Tigers in a mid-season swap.
“I’m 36 years old and I don’t take these games for granted,” said Verlander, a leading contender for the American League’s Cy Young trophy. “I got hurt and missed a few.”
National League starter Hyun-Jin Ryu is a soft-spoken 32-year-old southpaw from South Korea who needs a translator to answer questions. But there’s no question about his pitching.
“He earned it because he performed,” Roberts said. “I feel really confident naming him the starting pitcher. He overcame injuries and I’m very proud of him.”
Another Dodger lefty, Clayton Kershaw, figures to follow Ryu, before defending Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom enters the fray. “We’ve got a good team over there,” Roberts said.
Latinos are likely to have a major influence on the 90th All-Star Game, slated for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Progressive Field.
Among those on the National League roster are Acuña and Willson Contreras, both of Venezuela; Dominican pitchers Sandy Alcantara and Luis Castillo; Cuban catcher Yasmani Grandal; Puerto Rican infielder Javy Báez; and second baseman Ketel Marte, also from the Dominican Republic.
The AL roster features two Cubans in first baseman Jose Abreu and closer Aroldis Chapman; Dominicans Gary Sánchez, Carlos Santana, and Jorge Polanco; and hometown favorite Francisco Lindor of Caguas, Puerto Rico. Santana, like Lindor, also plays for the Indians.
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