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Win or lose, Red Sox solid under Farrell's guiding hand

Boston continues to fluctuate, but new manager keeps lows from snowballing @HalBodley

ST. PETERSBURG -- Start with this: If the season were to end today, Boston's John Farrell would be American League Manager of the Year. Hands down.

What Farrell has done with the Red Sox mess is not impressive, it is amazing.

It is as if he walked into the devastation created by the Bobby Valentine storm and, with his demanding yet convincing personality, quickly put the storied franchise on solid footing.

Who would have thought?

No one expected the Red Sox to contend this summer in the Eastern Division, let alone lead the pack by as many as three games on April 29.

And when the Red Sox hit the skids after reaching a season-best 20-8 record in early May, it was no surprise to those who gawked at their fast start.

The Boston literati swarmed around Farrell in the dugout the other night at Tropicana Field, inquiring about lineup changes, the batting slumps by the likes of Jonny Gomes and the rehabbing of injured pitchers.

"What are you going to do?" reporters kept asking.

The night before, the Red Sox, struggling to score runs, had lost to the Rays, 5-3, their sixth setback in their last seven games and ninth of 11.

Farrell, flashing the stern but pleasing charisma he uses to motivate players, did not bite.

Re-shuffle the batting order, shake things up?

"I've given it some thought," Farrell said. "And yet the one thing that I do not want to create in there [clubhouse] is more uncertainty. I think at a time when you could understand if some frustration starts to filter in, I want there to be some stability and continuity to the work we're doing.

"That includes their understanding there's a lot of belief and trust in them as players. We didn't go 20-8 at one point with a completely different set of players. We're not going to run from them. I really like our team; we're just going through a spell where we're creating opportunities."

A few hours later, the Red Sox blasted David Price and the Rays on Wednesday, 9-2, ending Tampa Bay's six-game winning streak.

Gomes, who entered the game batting .182, contributed an RBI single in Boston's eight-run third inning, during which Price, the slumping 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, left with a left triceps strain.

"Last year at this time? I was right about where I am right now," Gomes said after the game. "It's tough right now. Unfortunately, it's my job."

How serious is the slump?

"I was with a team that was 13 1/2 games out in mid-August last year," he added, referring to Oakland. "I was in first place for four innings, and we went to the playoffs. If people are looking for a panic button, I don't have one."

Under Valentine, who succeeded Terry Francona, last season was Boston's worst finish in the AL East since they ended 1993 in fifth place in a seven-team division.

And their 2012 last-place finish was the first since the Eastern Division became a five-team circuit.

The 2013 team was recast, and improvement was predicted, but it is hard to believe anyone thought even Farrell, in what he calls his dream job, could work miracles. But to be totally objective, that is exactly what he has done.

These are the new-look Red Sox.

Long gone are many familiar faces who helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004 and 2007, a juggernaut one could always count on to contend for the AL East title. But it was also many of those players, driven by their egos, who tore the camaraderie of the clubhouse to shreds.

Now, even on their best days, newcomers Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Gomes have been inconsistent, far from impact players. Agreed, they have had their hot and cold moments.

That Farrell has been able to bring this group together and convince them to believe in themselves is a tribute to him.

It is the overriding reason why he refuses to fiddle with the batting order, keeping left-handed hitters in the lineup against lefty pitching even when they are scuffling at the plate.

Take shortstop Drew.

In the game Wednesday night, Drew started the third-inning explosion, working a walk from Price. When Drew became the 10th batter of the inning, facing struggling reliever Jamey Wright, he hit the second grand slam of his career, a cutter to right field.

"It just goes back to controlling the strike zone," Farrell said after the important victory. "When we're right and we're kind of clicking offensively, it's when we grind deep into each individual at-bat. That's what we have to do."

Maybe the third inning was an aberration for this team, but it just might work wonders, regardless of the outcome in the next few games.

Wednesday's laugher propelled Jon Lester to a 6-0 record and 2.72 earned run average.

During the 11-game cold spell, Boston was 4-for-42 with runners in scoring position.

"It's one of those things," Drew said. "I mean, you had the same lineup that won all those games. It's there. It's just a matter that baseball's a funny game sometimes, and when things don't go your way, you've got to keep grinding. It's still May."

David Ortiz, Big Papi, at 37 and in his 18th season, believes that when the Red Sox slump, it becomes contagious for just about everyone on the team. They seem to lack an impact hitter who can carry the offense during the dry periods.

Big Papi, after opening the season on the disabled list, returned April 20 and reeled off a 15-game hitting streak. That was followed by an 0-for-17 slump that finally ended Saturday.

That, it appears, is a fitting analogy to the Red Sox this season.

A third of the 2013 marathon is just about complete. It is obvious the Red Sox will have their share of highs and lows.

None of the latter will come close to 2012.

Give John Farrell much of the credit.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for

Jonny Gomes, David Ortiz