Mookie Betts’s return is still just part of the Red Sox story, mercifully

Red Sox

As Mookie Betts returns to Fenway Park, the Red Sox are unquestionably not the Red Sox of five years ago.

Red Sox fans looks toward a backpack with Mookie Betts' No. 50 on it.
Even going on four years removed from Mookie Betts’ trade to the Dodgers, he remains a heavy memory for the Red Sox faithful. Jim Davis/Globe Staff
  • Boston Red Sox's Wilyer Abreu is congratulated by third base coach Carlos Febles (53) after hitting a two-run home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, in Houston.

    Have the Red Sox found a potential impact bat in rookie Wilyer Abreu?

  • What Alex Cora hopes to see from Red Sox fans during Mookie Betts’ return to Fenway Park

COMMENTARY

I’m hard pressed to imagine a team coming off a 17-1 victory who’ll get a more convoluted reaction than the Red Sox will on Friday at Fenway Park.

It’s Mookie night. Hope you have your Apple sign-in ready.

Carlton Fisk’s first Fenway game with the White Sox came immediately after his departure, on Opening Day 1981. The home crowd’s response was mixed, turning only to cheers after the hometown hero won it for the visitors, and the stakes were low.

It’s the only thing that pops to mind as nearly comparable, yet it’s still not all that close. Fisk was squandered by team boss Haywood Sullivan, but technically left as a free agent. The Red Sox of the era were poorly run and, in a relative sense, cash poor.

Not so today. These Sox knew exactly what they were doing four Februaries ago. They could, if they chose, have as deep a wallet as near anyone in the sport. And despite all logic, they remain in the playoff chase, 3.5 games out of a wild card with five-plus weeks to play.

Let’s focus on that here. Mookie said his piece to the Globe earlier this week. Everyone’s opinions on his departure are well established. Lock the thread. May he go 0 for 20 or 12 for 12 this weekend, as you desire.

The team he has long since left behind certainly offers enough to chew on.

Wednesday morning, it felt like time to have a real discussion about Alex Cora. After five errors in two ugly losses, the latter preceded by the manager beseeching his Sox to “just give [him] the routine plays,” the Underdog T-shirts and repeated kvetching to the umpires felt like a distraction from whether their season-long lack of preparedness and fundamentals went beyond injuries and roster construction.

Then, back from the brink again. A white-knuckle win behind a gritty Chris Sale and five relievers, an absolute laugher, and a return home still in the fight. (I feel some yellow City Connect jerseys coming on this weekend.)

The Giants are a half-game out of a National League wild card position despite a roster as absurd as Boston’s, so the Sox are not unique here. Across 128 games, they’ve used 113 different batting orders — none more than three times — and 95 different defensive lineups.

Seven different starting second basemen. Seven different starting shortstops. Ten starting pitchers. Seven Major League debuts after Wilyer Abreu’s shining start in Houston. It’s been a macabre dance.

We should probably be celebrating it a little more than we are. But it’s hard to find fault in the response when we grew used to not having to live this way.

It’s interesting to consider how different we might feel had the Sox not successfully managed that final series in Washington in 2021, then rumbled to within two games of the World Series in short order. That run, as you’re likely aware, is their only real success since the end of the 2018 victory march.

The before times, we can safely call them.

The concept of trust is a bit silly to mention when the team side of this clearly views it as business and the other views it as a love affair, but before February 2020, Sox fans could at least avoid questioning whether winning was the highest priority of team brass.

Today? It’s a valid question no matter how you feel about Chaim Bloom’s plan. That he, and his bosses, clearly have a plan to build from within and not overextend? Well, it beats the alternative. They’re not the White Sox.

But they are unquestionably not the Red Sox of five years ago, to the point I feel silly even typing it out. The impact of that is blunted somewhat given their sport has also undergone an upheaval, devaluing its playoffs through expansion, rewarding the thrifty builders and all but encouraging the sort of “luxury tax resets” that helped bring us where we are today.

Those are all far bigger picture thoughts than we probably have time for here, though. More pressing matters are at hand, as the Red Sox have a playoff chase to humor us with and arguably the best player they’ve ever drafted and produced is back in town to say hello.

We can only hope he won’t be the only story.


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