The last time John Henry was this visible around the Red Sox, Mookie Betts was still patrolling Fenway Park’s right field and the world had not yet heard of a virus called COVID-19.
But with his Sox staging a most surprising run through these baseball playoffs, Henry, who also owns the Globe, made his second public appearance in the last eight days, again taking questions on his team’s notorious trade of Betts to the Dodgers. Much like he did after the Sox clinched the ALDS against the heavily favored Rays, when he joined the late-night on-field celebration, Henry was on the field Tuesday night, taking in batting practice prior to Game 4 of the ALCS against the Astros.
With the Sox holding a 2-1 series lead heading into the game, with his team bashing home runs all over the place, his pitchers outperforming their counterparts on a nightly basis, and his manager pushing all the right buttons, why wouldn’t Henry want to take a victory lap?
“But we’ve only won two,” he said. “It’s only two.”
Henry was right. The Sox lost Game 4, 9-2, and the series is suddenly tied.
The Sox have six wins this postseason, from the one-game wild-card knockout of the Yankees to the three straight victories after losing the opener to the Rays, to taking Games 2 and 3 against the Astros after dropping another opener on the road. The surge came as a surprise when you consider the Sox saw their first-place standing in the AL East at the All-Star break slip away across the second half of the season, a decline that forced them to win on the final day of the regular season just to make the playoffs.
Once in, they seem determined to stay.
As Henry put it: “It’s really tough to make the playoffs. Once you get in then you know anything can happen.”
After the ALDS clincher, Henry acknowledged to reporters that the franchise’s internal timetable had accelerated faster than anticipated.
“We sort of felt all year we were ahead of schedule,” he said that night. “We knew we had some flaws, but these guys kept picking each other up, so wherever we might have had flaws, others made up for it. It’s really remarkable.”
Two key decisions have fueled the championship dream, and on Tuesday Henry endorsed both. He credited the first, hiring Chaim Bloom as chief baseball officer, for begetting the second, bringing back manager Alex Cora following a season-long suspension for a role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
“It was really Chaim’s decision to bring back Alex, and I thought that was a great decision,” Henry said. “You don’t tell baseball ops, at least in this organization, we don’t tell them who the manager should be, so that was sort of, I thought, a tough decision. It would have been easy for us to do it because we dealt with Alex, but I think for us the right decision was Chaim.”
While Bloom has made so many of the right roster moves, such as the trade deadline acquisition of Kyle Schwarber or the late-season additions of important complementary pieces such as Hansel Robles, Travis Shaw, and José Iglesias, Cora’s magic tough has made it all work. Remember, this is a manager who has never lost a postseason series, not as the bench coach when the Astros won it all in 2017 or in his debut season as a manager when the Red Sox won it all in 2018.
“[What he’s doing now] reminds me of 2018, everything he does is right,” Henry said. “He has such focus, ability to think ahead, and is a great game manager.”
Mostly, Henry seemed moved by the Fenway crowds, by the packed ballpark that has reduced opponents to shells of their former selves. Red Sox players have been captivated by the relentless noise and passion from their fans, consistently crediting the electric atmosphere for helping them along on this playoff ride. For a sport in a constant fight to maintain a mythical status as America’s pastime, there would seem to be little doubt about its place in Boston’s sporting heart. When the Red Sox get on a roll, the city is right there ready and waiting to join them.
“I think it was the media that thought there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm,” Henry said. “People didn’t come back at first because they were so careful about COVID here and it took a while, I think, for people to feel comfortable coming back.”
Now that they’re here, he can’t get enough of them.
“It’s hard not to appreciate what’s going on here especially after the tough year and a half people have had,” Henry said.
The Sox have proven themselves to be quite a tonic for a 2020 season disappointing both for on-field results and the pandemic that kept fans from attending. And with the core of the team solidly in place, Henry believes there is hope even beyond this postseason, wherever it ends.
“We’re still in the building phase, so it does portend well for the future,” he said.
It sure didn’t feel that way in February 2020. That’s when Betts was sent on his way out, with ownership never fully explaining the breakdown of contract talks or never fully owning the disappointment of losing a beloved homegrown, All-Star, championship-winning player. And that’s when COVID-19 was only on its way in, before anyone could have ever predicted the havoc the pandemic would wreak across the world.
But here we are, Game 4 of ALCS. The future is now.