HOUSTON — Last year, the Astros rolled the Red Sox 3-1 in the Division Series on their way to winning their first World Series title.
This season, with both rosters basically the same, Boston spotted Houston the first game at Fenway in the American League Championship Series, and then the Red Sox ran the table with four-straight victories — including three at Minute Maid Park (where the Astros had won 10 of their previous 11 postseason games) — to advance to the World Series after Thursday night's 4-1 victory in Game 5.
It would be too simple to say Alex Cora, who was A.J. Hinch's bench coach last year for Houston and is now in his first year as Red Sox manager, has been the difference from one season to the next.
It's very tough for teams to repeat. With the Astros now eliminated, Major League Baseball will crown a different champion for the 18th-straight season. People often go to extreme lengths to climb the mountain and, once there, maybe don't put in quite the same effort on the other side.
And the Astros had some injuries that limited some of their best players and former World Series heroes (Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers and Brian McCann, to name a few).
So it's impossible to say if Cora remained in Houston and the Red Sox had another skipper, that things would have been different.
But you can definitely say this: these Red Sox players think Cora was the major difference in their transformation from a good regular-season team that wilted in October under former manager John Farrell, to a lion that not only set a franchise-record in wins, but has roared to five-straight road postseason victories at Yankee Stadium and Minute Maid Park.