As the world champion Red Sox boarded their charter flight home from Los Angeles Monday, manager Alex “Midas Touch” Cora hugged his players.
Make no mistake about it. There’s nothing better than being the best in the world.
“I can’t take off my sunglasses,” said J.D. Martinez. “You don’t want to see my eyes.”
“You don’t want to photograph me,” said Chris Sale. “I have a face for radio.”
Cora was absolutely joyous.
“Hey,” Cora said to a reporter. “Remember that guy who started screaming at me during that very first spring training game?”
That was more than 200 games ago. But the memory of the white-haired, red-faced, beer-bellied heckler is hard to forget. He charged his way down to the box seats in JetBlue Park and screamed at the new manager:
“Hey Alex, you got the team now, you [expletive] better win. Or we’ll run you out of town on a rail.”
“Well, where is that guy now?” Cora said with a laugh.
Behind Cora, a player shouted, “We are one of the best teams to ever walk the planet!”
Brock Holt chimed in, “We won our last game. Nobody can touch us now!”
There was a lot of banter, including some about the Dodgers’ Manny Machado, the man who spiked Dustin Pedroia in 2017. All agree it was fitting that Sale struck him out for the last out of the World Series.
Cora then read part of an old story criticizing Boston pitchers, especially the bullpen. The World Series numbers, Cora says, proved otherwise. In 25⅔ innings, Sox relievers (some of whom are usually starters) gave up 16 hits and just four earned runs for a paltry 1.40 ERA.
The team let out a rousing cheer, then began to get comfortable for the cross-country flight.
Bullpen coach Craig Bjornson got the party started by going up and down the aisle offering shots of what he called “Fenway Holy Water,” which tasted an awful lot like tequila.
Of the three championships the Red Sox clinched on the road this century (also 2004 and 2007), this was the most spirited return, because they did not fly home immediately after the game. Players at least got some sleep.
Dustin Pedroia, who also won championships in 2007 and 2013, says this team is the most vocal of the three.
“They are young,” he said.
“They are rowdy,” said team president Sam Kennedy. “There’s no debate that they are the greatest Red Sox team ever.”
The day started in a five-star Pasadena hotel, where soft classical music is piped into the lobby. Players were told to have their luggage downstairs at 9 a.m. and that the buses would leave by 10:15.
The players greeted each other by saying, “Good morning, world champion.”
Three buses and an equipment truck got a California Highway Patrol motorcycle escort to LAX, zipping down the jammed freeway.
Rick Porcello made sure those not seated in first class were entertained, circling the plane with a boom box on his shoulder. His joyous cannonball into a beer cooler during the previous night’s locker-room celebration didn’t embarrass him. But he was sheepish about weeping on the field after the game. He knows there’s no crying in baseball.
“It was just the emotion of it,” he said. “My dad was there and I didn’t know what else to do.”
Players feasted on sushi, pork dumplings, vegetable spring rolls, fruit cups, and cheese-and-cracker plates for pre-departure, then wok-fired filet mignon, spicy chicken, ginger chicken, or Mongolian beef. Dessert was hot fudge sundaes.
Matt Barnes went back to the galley and gave the flight attendants a big tip for taking care of them all season.
In the rear of the plane, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Nunez, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Christian Vazquez set up a makeshift casino and held an hours-long game of 21. Nunez said he won $300.
The world champions touched down in Boston at 9:14 p.m. They donned “Believe in Boston” sweat shirts and knit caps for the chilly local weather.
Nunez, wearing ripped jeans and carrying the trophy with one arm, headed down the stairs, making some who had watched him flop around Dodger Stadium nervous.
The team was given a motorcycle police escort through the Ted Williams Tunnel. But unlike 2004, there were no fans lining the streets on the other side. The Patriots were playing in Buffalo that night. And with four since 2004, Red Sox championships aren’t as rare as they used to be.
At Fenway Park, Vazquez flashed the trophy over his head to a small but vocal group of diehard fans who had gathered. After placing the trophy on his head, he plopped it down on a table in the middle of the clubhouse. After a quick glance at the Patriots game, he headed out the door to the sound of cheers on the streets of Boston.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org