Sox on '21: 'No one expected us to be here'
HOUSTON -- When a team gets as far into the postseason as the Red Sox did in 2021, the feeling in the immediate aftermath is always going to be one of disappointment. That’s just how it is when a trip to the World Series is denied by just a couple of games.
But for this specific group out of Boston, which went through a roller coaster of a season, perspective is necessary. That’s exactly what manager Alex Cora provided just minutes after the Red Sox saw their improbable October run come to an end in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series with a 5-0 loss to the Astros on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
“When we look back at everything that we went through, the thoughts of this team early in the season, it's just amazing,” Cora said. “It was a great year. Obviously, very disappointed that we didn't win this series, but we're going to look back and we're going to be very proud of the group, the organization and everybody that got to be part of this operation on a daily basis.”
Coming off a frustrating 2020 season, the Red Sox entered this year with most expecting them to remain near the bottom of a stacked AL East division. Ignoring the preseason prognostications, the Red Sox came out and won 92 games in the regular season, enough to slide into the playoffs as the top AL Wild Card team.
“No one expected us to be here. We proved a lot of people wrong,” said Red Sox Game 6 starter Nathan Eovaldi. “We believed in ourselves as a team. We were able to overcome a lot of obstacles together and get to this point.
“Obviously, the end goal is the World Series. But when you don't get there, you look back at the season and realize everything that we were able to accomplish. We were able to accomplish a lot of good things.”
There’s no reason to believe those good things shouldn’t continue in 2022, either.
Most of the major contributors to this year’s Red Sox squad are set to return next year. The returning core includes All-Stars Eovaldi, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Kiké Hernández, who quickly turned into the hottest hitter on the planet this postseason, remains under contract, as does emerging Fenway favorite Alex Verdugo.
Kyle Schwarber, who turned out to be a pivotal midseason trade acquisition, has a mutual option for 2022. Based on his experience since joining, the slugger appears to be very open to the idea of working something out with the club in order to extend his stay in Boston.
“This is definitely a clubhouse that I could see myself wanting to stay in,” Schwarber said. “These guys are amazing. This is a World Series clubhouse, and I would love to hopefully see if that opportunity comes back.”
That winning clubhouse was aided tremendously by the stabilizing presence of Cora. Returning from a suspension for the entirety of the 2020 season, Cora immediately continued the legacy he began in ‘18, when he won the World Series as a rookie manager.
On display for 2021 was Cora’s masterful strategizing. Those savvy tactics helped the Red Sox to victories over the Yankees and Rays in the Wild Card Game and AL Division Series, respectively. By the time Boston entered the ALCS, Cora had a postseason record of 15-4, which stood as the top winning percentage (.789) among managers with at least 15 games of postseason experience.
That success has helped Cora brush aside the skepticism that followed his return to the Red Sox after findings of his involvement with the Astros sign-stealing scandal of 2017.
“I'm good,” Cora said. “Obviously, disappointed and sad that we didn't pull this off, but I've been good for a while. There were a lot of good things that happened, not only professionally, but personally that I was able to see a lot of people enjoy baseball again. For them to be able to do that, that's what it's all about.”
Between Cora returning as manager, the aforementioned group of players returning, and even promising players on the rise like the young arms of Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock, these Red Sox believe the best is yet to come. The window of contention is still open, and they’re ready to make an even deeper run in 2022.
“Having A.C. back at the top and guiding us this whole way, I think you see the difference from last year to this year,” said Eovaldi. “I mean, the group of guys we have -- solid core -- it's coming back next year. We got a lot of things to look forward to, and I think having this bitter taste in our mouth is going to be good motivation again for next year coming forward.”