Farrell era off to pleasant start for Red Sox
NEW YORK -- The John Farrell era for the Red Sox began with a win in the opener against the arch-rival Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Monday while across town Bobby Valentine analyzed his first Mets game for SNY. And for one day, at least, life was very good.
For a team that opened 0-6 and on the way to 2-10 under Terry Francona in 2011, and 1-5 under Valentine in '12, you can't beat a win on Opening Day.
"When you're talking about individuals or a team collectively, when you have success early in the year, certainly the confidence is going to grow," Farrell said after getting his first win quickly under his belt, 8-2. "It's important, particularly with this team, which has a number of new faces.
"There's a lot of talk about chemistry, but wins certainly are the biggest factor at helping a team gel."
Lack of chemistry was what made Francona decide to resign after the great September collapse of 2011. The team needed a new voice, Francona said. The outspoken Valentine never had a chance with the old group that included Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, plus much of the starting rotation -- all stuck in their old ways.
Valentine was not the first choice. After Francona's departure, new Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington coveted Dale Sveum to replace Francona, but Sveum went to the Cubs. Inquiries to the Blue Jays were made about Farrell, then managing in Toronto, but he was under contract and unavailable. Red Sox president Larry Lucchino brought in Valentine and chaos ensued.
Valentine is a brilliant baseball man, but he manages out of chaos and with him tumult is soon to follow. Farrell, who the Blue Jays finally let out of his contract this winter, is the antithesis, which almost always seems to be the case.
The tough guy who no one likes is followed by the calming influence, which is the definition of the solid and no-nonsense 50-year-old Farrell. A former big league pitcher and Red Sox pitching coach under Francona, Farrell followed that with a 154-170 managing record and a pair of fourth-place finishes in Toronto. But he's a seemingly easy-going guy.
"You mean a guy who calms the waters?" Lucchino said on Monday. "That's an interesting analysis. It makes some sense."
Evidently, the Red Sox, who won the World Series under Francona in 2004 and '07, but haven't made the playoffs since '09, needed some sort of transfusion.
"Well, after the collapse of '11 and the disappointment of '12 we need something to change the trend line," Lucchino said. "So I hope we have more talent and a unified manager and coaching staff."
Red Sox management created much of the latter problem when it wouldn't let Valentine hire his own coaching staff. Thus, there was never much unity in that sphere. When closer Andrew Bailey went down with an injury just prior to the start of the 2012 season, it left Valentine scrambling to reshuffle the bullpen. Now, with the addition of Joel Hanrahan in an offseason trade and the healthy return of Bailey, that problem seems to be solved.
On Monday when starter John Lester left after throwing 96 pitches in five innings a steady flow of five Red Sox relievers looked like the Dominicans in the World Baseball Classic, holding the Yankees to no runs and a single the rest of the way.
That kind of performance will take away a lot of grief and stops any finger pointing dead in its tracks.
"We thought coming out of Spring Training [the bullpen] had a chance to be one of the strengths of our club," Farrell said. "And as each one came to the mound today, they demonstrated good stuff."
The other strength is Farrell's own character. The best managers -- Joe Torre with the Yankees, and Don Mattingly to a lesser extent when the Dodgers were in the throes of ownership issues -- know how to keep the tumult out of the clubhouse.
The same may prove to be true with Farrell, as he deals with a vastly different group of players. Only one guy in the starting lineup remains from that day last April, when the Red Sox staged the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. And that's Pedroia.
The others have been released, allowed to go via free agency, traded, and in the case of Mike Aviles, swapped to the Blue Jays as compensation for Toronto allowing Farrell out of his contract. A week later, Aviles was sent to the Indians.
"The players who were targeted to be brought in here, there's a track record and a history of those players to be quality teammates and talented players," Farrell said. "What we have control over, that's how we respond to challenges. How we [cover] each other's back in this clubhouse is a key for us going forward throughout the entire year."
One game does not a season make, but it's always better to leap off on the right foot than to suffer the ignominy of defeat. For the Red Sox, that's the way the John Farrell era began. And for one day, at least, life was very good.