Why Alex Cora's OK with belief 2021 Red Sox were never that good

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Tomase: Why Cora's OK with belief team was never that good originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The thought occurred to many of us in August as the Red Sox morphed from a first-place team into one fighting for its wild card life: Maybe they were never that good.

The belief combined equal parts insult and reassurance -- insulting because it wrote off three great months of baseball, but reassuring because it suggested we were right to doubt them in February when Vegas didn't even predict a .500 record. It also let the team off the hook because what did we expect? They were never that good.

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It would be very easy for the Red Sox to play the "no one believed in us" card as they finally make it through the other side of a COVID outbreak well-positioned to claim one of the American League's two wild card spots. And assuming they get that far, we will undoubtedly hear some of that from the clubhouse.

One place we won't hear it is the manager's office. Alex Cora gave a very frank answer on Friday afternoon when asked about this narrative.

"That people gave up on us, I don't know. I never take that personal," he said. "I was part of the media and I gave up on a lot of teams in five years. I was a guy that picked wrong teams and wrong MVPs, so I know how it is. I love the fact that throughout the summer and right now, people are talking about us, which is very important.

"For a team that nobody thought was going to be relevant throughout the season, we've been relevant -- for good or bad, right? People talk great about us or they talk bad about us. It's still a topic here in New England, here in this area. I like the fact that we're still in the hunt, we're still in the middle of this, and it should be fun for the next week."

Cora hit upon an underrated aspect of this season, and that's the team's relevance. Whether good (the run to first place) or bad (the post-trade deadline blues), the Red Sox have given us a reason to pay attention all season. As the final two weeks begin with a half game lead on the Yankees for the final wild card spot, not even the emergence of Patriots quarterback Mac Jones can erase the fact that we're in the midst of a bonafide pennant race.

Considering how little was expected of the club coming off a last-place finish and the fourth-worst record in baseball, it speaks volumes that we even cared about a relative lack of activity at the trade deadline, or the struggles of Garrett Richards in the rotation, or the emergence of Bobby Dalbec as a slugging force in August.

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Whether fans have fully embraced this team is up for debate, but at least they're not indifferent. That's a victory in itself, and the manager knows it.

Said Cora: "If you told these guys that we added in the offseason that on Sept. 17 you have a chance to make it to the playoffs and you're going to play eight games straight at Fenway, will you sign up for it? You'd be like, yeah, let's do this."

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