BOSTON — As the Patriots began their title defense in Foxboro on Sunday night, another was pittering out 20 miles north at Fenway Park.
Though it was a Sunday Night Baseball showcase, the Red Sox and Yankees had about as much buzz as Friday morning’s media game between writers from Boston and New York.
There were hundreds of empty seats at Fenway and a spirited Harry Potter debate raged in the press box (seriously though, if he’s magic why does he need to wear glasses?)
It wasn’t the engrossing matchup ESPN jumped at when the schedule came out.
The Sox entered last night with a 1.8% chance of making the Wild Card game, and at 16 1/2 back of the Yankees in the AL East, their World Series defense is well on its way to the scrap heap.
It’s the same place baseball’s last 19 champions have ended up. Nobody has gone back-to-back since the 2000 Yankees. It’s seemingly impossible to repeat.
Which makes Bill Belichick’s sustained success down the road all the more remarkable to Alex Cora.
“They’re so consistent at what they do,” Cora said. “I saw Brad Stevens two days ago and he always says, ‘It’s unreal that 11 guys do it the right way on every play.’ It’s like a pickoff play. If we run it, it’s timing, boom, boom. And every play is right.”
Cora pointed to the culture Belichick has engineered as catalyst. The coach’s my-way-or-the-highway approach is well-documented, and with 53 players moving in the same direction, Belichick is seemingly able to squeeze more out of them. Look no further than Saturday afternoon.
When news broke that the Patriots were taking a flier on All-World receiver/reality TV dream Antonio Brown, the Sox were on their way to a 5-1 loss. The fans in the ballpark didn’t seem to mind — at least for a spell.
“In the eighth inning, when they announced it, I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” Cora said. “There was nothing going on, on the field and people were excited. Like when they put the hockey scores on in the Stanley Cup.”
The NFL is king — football was on every TV in both clubhouses before last night’s game — and the conversations extended beyond the games alone. How is it that the Patriots can dominate for two straight decades and continually get malcontents like Brown to buy in?
“We were talking about it with J.D. (Martinez) and Dana (LeVangie),” Cora said. “I think it was on ESPN, (former Patriots) Randy Moss and Tedy Bruschi. They were talking about it, ‘It’s all about football and the culture.’ Sometimes you wonder. I love Bill and what he does, not because I’m here but from afar it’s like, wow, that’s great what they do.
“But we were talking like, there’s a guy on another team and he doesn’t behave or whatever, a troublemaker, and all of a sudden he signs with the Patriots. Is it like, ‘OK, I get the culture because you have to have a culture that way.’
Cora continued: “But going into it are you intimidated like, ‘I don’t want to mess this up, I signed with the Patriots.’ And you go in the first day and this is what we do. ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ All of a sudden, he becomes a great guy. He’s a great talent anyways. But we were like, ‘OK, what is it? The chicken or the egg?’”
Whichever you believe, there’s no denying the result, as the Patriots dropped Super Bowl banner No. 6 last night.
“It’s amazing,” Cora said. “I’m having fun actually. They weren’t my favorite team because of (fellow University of Miami Hurricanes) Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Those guys I really liked when they played for the Ravens, but just to watch what they do is impressive. It seems like we’re gonna be watching another Super Bowl here in Boston.”
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason