The first pitch of Sunday night’s game against the Yankees was 15 minutes away when Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski walked onto the field at Fenway Park.
He joined team president Sam Kennedy, chief operating officer Jon Gilula, and chief human resources officer Amy Waryas for a ceremony honoring a group of longtime employees.
Dombrowski, as always nattily attired, smiled and waved when shown on the scoreboard.
A short time later, as the Yankees were scoring two runs in the second inning, principal owner John Henry and team chairman Tom Werner informed Dombrowski he had been fired less than 11 months after a team he helped build won the World Series.
Dombrowski left the park a short time later. He was almost as relieved as he was disappointed.
“I don’t know if there is an expected timing. However, with all the speculation taking place about my position, I think it was better sooner than later,” he told the Globe.
The Yankees went on to beat the Red Sox, 10-5. When the game ended at 11:56 p.m., manager Alex Cora returned to his office and was met there by the grim faces of Henry, Werner, and Kennedy.
They told him Dombrowski had been fired and that assistant general managers Brian O’Halloran and Eddie Romero, who were also present, would temporarily run baseball operations along with assistant GM Zack Scott and senior vice president of major and minor league operations Raquel Ferreira.
Cora’s immediate thought was to tell the team before word leaked out. He walked across the hallway to the clubhouse and quickly called his players together.
“They decided to make a change in direction with Dave,” Cora said to the group. “We’ll talk to you more about it tomorrow.”
Cora appeared stunned, according to several people in the room.
“No way he knew this was coming,” one player said. “He was shocked. I think we all were.”
The Sox are laden with veteran players who have seen managers and executives come and go over the course of their careers. But the timing of this move surprised them.
“I never expected this,” J.D. Martinez said.
As Cora informed the players, vice president of media relations Kevin Gregg walked into the interview above the clubhouse and told a small group of reporters at 12:06 a.m. that the team had “parted ways” with Dombrowski.
His wording was taken from the draft of a press release being prepared.
As the players quickly dressed and left the park, Cora stayed behind deep into the night discussing the now uncertain state of the team with a friend.
Cora spoke to Dombrowski on Monday morning.
“Just to thank him for trusting me and giving me a chance to become a big league manager,” he said. “This guy with 40 years of experience decided, ‘Go ahead, kid. I think you can do this.’ Now here I am because of him.”
The Red Sox finally sent out their press release at 10:29 a.m. on Monday. The 292-word statement included comments from Henry, Werner, and Kennedy lauding Dombrowski and his accomplishments.
Henry, who also owns the Globe, referred to Dombrowski having a “Hall of Fame career.”
Conspicuously missing was why the organization had fired him after three consecutive American League East championships.
Sources said the ownership felt that Dombrowski had done what was asked, and that now they needed a leader with a different set of skills to reshape the roster. Once the decision was made, Dombrowski was told rather than let media speculation continue through the end of the season.
“It was out of respect for Dave,” insisted one team official.
Henry, Werner, and Kennedy addressed the players at 4 p.m., the Sox canceling batting practice to have that meeting. But the trio did not take questions from the media.
The Henry/Werner ownership group has fired a series of managers and executives since taking over in 2001. Each time they gave a public accounting of the decision, as is customary and considered responsible following major changes.
But this time they left it to Cora to answer questions alone for 22 minutes. None of the baseball operations leaders were present, either.
Cora dutifully defended the executives for not taking questions.
“I think the organization decided to move in a different direction,” Cora said. “I don’t think they have to go into details. The organization just decided it was time to move on.”
Beyond the vague notion of changing direction, sources said, the Sox were troubled by a lack of cohesion within baseball operations. Dombrowski retained much of the staff he inherited but often operated independently or dependent on advice from the two vice presidents he hired, Tony La Russa and Frank Wren.
Last Oct. 28, when the Sox won the World Series, Henry paused during the postgame celebration on the field at Dodger Stadium and said that one of his priorities would be to extend Dombrowski’s contract.
He repeated that again in spring training. But as the season wore on and the Sox fell out of contention, the decision flipped to replacing Dombrowski.
When Dombrowski pressed ownership for an answer, he got one.
“Appreciative of my time here. Boston is a great baseball city,” Dombrowski said. “Had an exciting few years, however, this season did not go as we all planned. However, respect ownership’s decision to make any changes they choose.”
As the Sox played the Yankees on Monday night, La Russa was seated in the front row of the suite Dombrowski once used. But Ferreira was there, too. The transition had started.