BOSTON — The calendar flipping to September always holds a special significance for Alex Cora.
Though the Red Sox manager is an admitted scoreboard watcher all season long — anyone who says they don't check 'em is a liar — September 1 is the first day he'll look at the standings with a critical eye.
That's something Robin Ventura taught Cora when the two were Dodgers in 2004 and it's never left him. When September begins, look at the standings and realize you need to make up X games to climb into a playoff spot, or win X to fend opponents off.
This September, Cora's Xs are ugly.
The Red Sox entered last night 5.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, needing to leapfrog two teams to get into the postseason. Trailing the Yankees by 15 in the division, repeating as AL East champions has long been off the table.
So on Tuesday afternoon, Cora was a realist.
“Well, I mean, we have an eight percent chance," Cora said. "Like 'Dumb and Dumber,' the movie, there’s still a chance!"
Cora's numbers were actually a bit outdated according to the statisticians at FanGraphs.com. Though they had an 8 percent shot on Sunday night, both the Indians and Rays won on Monday, dipping their chances to 6.8.
The Jim Carrey reference was the telling part of the quote though.
The funniest movie ever filmed (in the opinion of one sportswriter), "Dumb and Dumber" tells the story of two goofballs trying to return a suitcase filled with thousands of dollars to a beautiful woman, Mary Swanson, who they both claim to be in love with. If you haven't seen it and like laughing even a little bit, set your DVR after finishing this column.
And though Cora is always optimistic, the quote isn't as positive as it reads out of context.
Here's how the scene plays out:
Lloyd Christmas: "What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together? (No, that's not a typo). What are my chances?"
Mary Swanson: "Not good."
Lloyd Christmas: "You mean not good like one out of a hundred?"
Mary Swanson: "I'd say more like one out of a million."
Lloyd Christmas: "So... you're telling me there's a chance?"
The computers say the Red Sox playoff chances still aren't quite that long, but October baseball feels about as likely as Lloyd sweeping Mary off her feet.
Though they finished their off-day laden West Coast trip 6-2, it could have easily been 7-1, or even 8-0, and the Sox would be in legitimate striking distance.
Now they're left hoping things break their way.
"You control two things," Cora said. "The way you play and the Rays, because we play them four games. You don’t control the Indians, you don’t control the A’s. That’s out of the equation.
"Just keep playing good baseball, win games, and make that series (at Tampa Bay) count in September. Hopefully by that time we’re already passed one of the other two teams, and if that happens, the last week in September, it’s going to be fun. We go to Texas, we play Baltimore and do it.
"It’s easy to say it," Cora concluded. "I can map it out and I can give you a lot of reasons that we can do this, but obviously over a course of this season, I’ve been trying to give you guys reason to believe in us and it hasn’t happened on the field."
Spoiler: Mary and Lloyd don't end up together, (though Lloyd does ask her what all that one in a million talk was about earlier).
The Red Sox may very well miss the playoffs a year after winning a World Series, but honest in finally acknowledging his team's long odds, Cora has proven that he's no dummy.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Gloucester Daily Times and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason