BOSTON – John Farrell failed in his last managerial job. The Boston Red Sox had their worst record in nearly a half century.
After a dismal 2012 season for both, they’re together now and that past seems so far away.
It’s a match made for the World Series.
“I try to live out what our team has lived out this year and, that is, not to look back,” Farrell said.
Why would he want to?
The Toronto Blue Jays were 73-89 last season, their second under Farrell, and actually trailed Boston in the standings with 10 games left. Then the Red Sox finally won something – the race to the bottom of the AL East. They lost nine of their last 10 games, dropping to 69-93 and insuring that Bobby Valentine’s tumultuous term as manager would end after one season.
He had one year left on his contract with the Blue Jays so the Red Sox had to trade to get their old pitching coach back to run the show as manager.
His impact was immediate in spring training, the transition smoothed by his familiarity with many of his players.
“He came in there with a presence,” pitching ace Jon Lester said, “Came in there with his idea of how he wanted to run this team and stood up there in front of us and told us how he wanted it done.
“And I think the 40 guys or whatever that was in that room kind of looked around and it was like, ‘OK, let’s go do it.’ “
So they did, with a consistency and clubhouse cohesion missing from Valentine’s Way.
The Red Sox spent an AL-best 158 days in first place, were one of two major-league teams above .500 all year and had no losing streak longer than three games for just the second time in their 113 seasons.
And the players bonded long before their beards blossomed.
Gone were highly paid disgruntled players like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. In their place were team-oriented hustlers like Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew and David Ross.
But it took the even-keeled Farrell and his communication skills to bring them all together after Valentine’s shoot-from-the-lip style failed.
“The thing with John is he’s so smart. I think it seems like he learns from every single person he’s around in baseball,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “John this year has been unbelievable with all of us, just the communication.”
At 6-foot-4, the broad-shouldered Farrell has a military bearing. He leads his players and listens to them. He lets them know their roles, explains why they’re not in the lineup and sees them produce off the bench.
Before World Series games, he sits at an interview table, rarely blinking as he listens closely to questions. Then he answers thoughtfully, occasionally breaking into a smile.
And he’s not afraid to admit that he’s wrong.
With Game 3 tied 4-4 with one out in the top of the ninth, Farrell let Brandon Workman bat with one out rather than have Napoli pinch hit and make a double-switch at first base and pitcher.
Workman struck out. Then he left the game with one out and a runner at first in the bottom of the ninth when the Cardinals won 5-4 on an obstruction play.
“In retrospect, sure, I would have liked to (use a pinch hitter),” Farrell said. “Still, I wasn’t going to pinch-hit for Workman with no guarantee that Napoli drives one out of the ballpark.”
He also handles critics – there haven’t been many in Boston – with respect.
When he was booed by fans on his return to Toronto with Boston on April 4, Farrell said, “That goes back to how much people care, and that’s a good thing.
“Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, some things didn’t play out on the field as we had hoped.”
But now he’s in Boston where his philosophy is working out just fine.
“There’s a relentless approach to play a complete game every night,” Farrell said. “That attitude is what has allowed us to come back from so many deficits this year and never give an at-bat away, and certainly play to the 27th out every night.”
Unlike his predecessor, in Boston he has a strong relationship with his coaches and doesn’t call attention to himself by criticizing players.
Farrell hired Juan Nieves as his pitching coach then stayed out of his way despite having served in that role with the Red Sox from 2007-2010. The staff ERA of 3.79 was nearly a run less than last season’s and Boston’s best in 11 years.
“His genuineness as a person to me was the one thing that would allow him to connect with players,” Farrell said of Nieves.
Just like Farrell.
From that first meeting in spring training.
“Nobody had any questions,” Lester said. “It was our job to go out there and do what he told us to do. And I think we’ve done a good job of that.”