John Tomase

Alex Cora cleverly leans into ‘Underdog' vibes around Red Sox

Alex Cora and his players appear eager to prove their own front office wrong.

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For a while now Alex Cora has sounded OK letting his frustrations bubble to the surface, and now he's literally wearing them.

The Red Sox manager's choice of undergarments provides insight into his club's motivation for a September playoff push, and it's not subtle.

Cora has been wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the block U of 1960s cartoon superhero Underdog, which was a gift from catching coordinator Jason Varitek. The reference is obvious: Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom labeled the Red Sox underdogs while explaining why he didn't add at the trade deadline, implying the long odds dissuaded him from pushing beyond his comfort zone.

It's safe to say that message has reached the clubhouse, and if the players and coaches are rallying around it, Bloom probably wouldn't object, especially if it produces more series like this weekend's sweep of the Yankees.

For his part, Cora said the shirt isn't meant to send a message, but is simply a gag.

"It's not a theme in the clubhouse," he told reporters this weekend, including Chris Cotillo of MassLive.

Forgive my skepticism, but that's tough to swallow. After all, there was something about the postgame scene in New York that suggests the Red Sox are playing with the fire of a team that has tasted its own blood and plans on counterpunching. Per The Athletic, closer Kenley Jansen summoned Cora out of his postgame press conference to fire up the troops, and a beer-soaked Cora also reacted with I-don't-give-an-eff defiance by ripping the bad umpiring that led to his ejection.

It's entirely possible that reality will derail the Red Sox in Houston this week, especially with Mookie Betts and the turbocharged Dodgers coming to Boston right after, but in the meantime, Cora advertising his chief baseball officer's words qualifies as a fascinating development.

It's not like it's an isolated incidence. Before the trade deadline, Cora said it's about winning, not prospect rankings. Then, after being swept by the Blue Jays and benching outfielder Alex Verdugo in early August, he noted that everyone needs to be available, pointedly including "analysts" on his list.

And now the Underdog shirt, which is deliciously subversive. It suggests that the players and coaches want to prove the front office wrong as much as the external doubters. It's a powerful motivator, and we'll soon find out how far it can carry the, dare we say it, underdog Red Sox.

They may ultimately fall short of the playoffs, especially with the Mariners certifiably on fire and facing a much easier remaining schedule. And we probably shouldn't make too much of dispatching the woebegone New Yorkers, who have lost eight in a row during a freefall that is reaching terminal velocity.

The Mariners just swept the Astros in Houston to claim the wild card lead and pull within a half game of the defending World Series champs. The Red Sox are about to play the Astros seven times in 10 days, and Houston is in no position to take anyone lightly. A Red Sox four-game sweep this week would vault them past Houston in the wild card race.

That's getting way ahead of the game, of course, since the Red Sox haven't swept the Astros on the road since 2013. There's also the matter of their killer schedule, which is the toughest remaining in the American League and second overall only to the Rockies, per Tankathon. Toronto (23rd), Seattle (26th), and Houston (28th), have things much easier by comparison.

But do you know who never let long odds stop him? Underdog. Speed of lightning, roar of thunder, he fought crime with an oversized cape and a prominent U on his chest.

That the Red Sox manager feels comfortable wearing the same thing tells us plenty.

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