Red Sox Manager Alex Cora watches from the dugout during Game 6 of ALCS against Houston on Friday. Despite losing to the Astros, Cora sees plenty of positives from the season. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

HOUSTON — Once they got through the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series, it would’ve been hard to consider the 2021 Red Sox as anything but a success.

Sure, expectations change. And to look back at preseason projections and consider anything better than a fourth-place finish a success would’ve overlooked how well they played for three months early in the season.

And after they blew a lead in the A.L. East and had to scratch their way into a wild-card game, it felt like they needed to at least get through the Yankees and Rays in the postseason to make up for blowing the division.

Check, and check.

The Houston Astros were a stronger opponent that matched up better. And while an exciting season came crashing down in a 5-0 loss in Game 6 as they were eliminated from the American League Championship Series, the feeling outside the Red Sox clubhouse was largely positive.

“I mean, it’s really tough, obviously,” said Kiké Hernández, who signed a two-year, $14 million deal to play for Alex Cora. “Going home is never easy. I felt like once we got to this point, the goal was to win the World Series. We thought we were going to be able to do it. Obviously we came up short.

“But this was a hell of a ride for us this year. First day of spring training you come into this new team. The expectations from everybody outside our clubhouse was just, second-to-last place in our division. We didn’t agree with anybody who was saying that. We believed in ourselves. We got to this point, man, we were two wins away from going to the World Series. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to but we did some special things. And the Red Sox are going to be a problem for a long time.”

Kyle Schwarber had a different perspective, coming over from the Washington Nationals via trade on July 29.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all competitors, and we all want to make it to the end goal. The end goal is the World Series and winning it.”

Schwarber watched the Sox lose their division lead in late July and the Rays effectively won the division in August.

“I got to watch for pretty much two weeks,” he said. “It was, like, we went on that road trip, 10-gamer, and went 2-8. And I was just, like, ‘you know what, this team is grinding. They’re not quitting in any of these games. This is what it takes to win in the postseason.’

“We fought, scratched, clawed to get our way into the playoffs, and then we went in the wild card. We played unbelievable going into the Division Series. Played unbelievable too. I thought we grinded our butts off through this series. It just didn’t work out, but I think that the group should be very proud of themselves.”

Before answering questions from reporters after the loss, Cora took a moment to give credit to the Astros, who he called a great organization who deserved to be going to the World Series.

As for his own team, Cora said he spoke to them after the game.

“I told them how proud I am,” he said. “It’s an amazing group. It’s a group that we will always remember. In the offseason trying to recruit players and trying to buy into the concept that we were going to be good, it was hard. But at the end of the day, we did an amazing job to have that meeting. Not too many teams can say that they’re in the League Championship Series, and I know it doesn’t sound great, to have that meeting it means something, right?

“And we did an amazing job throughout the season. We just got beat at the end, but when we look back and everything that we went through, the thoughts of this team early in the season, it’s just amazing. It was a great year.”

It’s a rare thing in Boston to have a Red Sox team lose in the postseason but still feel good about themselves.

But after firing Dave Dombrowski and replacing him with Chaim Bloom in 2019, trading Mookie Betts, watching Chris Sale undergo Tommy John surgery in 2020 and firing and rehiring Cora to take charge in 2021, bouncing back from a last-place finish in 2020 to come within two games of the World Series feels like a success.

“I think we’re definitely disappointed right now,” said Nathan Eovaldi. “We obviously wanted to win this game and win the series and go to the World Series. No one expected us to be here. We proved a lot of people wrong.

“We believed in ourselves as a team. We were able to overcome a lot of obstacles together and get to this point.”

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