By Gerard Lombardo – @getoffatkenmore
When Cleveland came to Boston last October, in what proved to be anything but an evenly matched five game series, one of the surrounding story lines wasn’t taking place between the foul lines, rather in opposing dugouts. It was manager John Farrell opposing beloved Terry Francona. Francona was being heralded as AL Manager of the Year, and Manager John was just a wishful incumbent. “This guy needs to go,” I said to no one in particular as the camera panned over Farrell during the ALDS team introduction. Which was only further exacerbated following the painful three game sweep at the hands of Francona and the tribe. As swiftly as the season ended, the “Fire Farrell” population took to the radio waves and social media, spreading like the Rage Virus in 28 Days Later. When Dave Dombrowski announced he would be holding a press conference, the consensus was nearly unanimous; Farrell’s time was up. Dave had the perfect out: New GM, wants to bring his own guy on board to helm the wheel. Farrell had punched his ticket after the sweep, and Red Sox Nation was already speculating as to who’d be replacing him. Boy was that presser a kick to the groin. How the hell did it get to this point?
John Farrell was a good, if not great pitching coach here in Boston. Toronto coaxed him away, and after two unsuccessful campaigns north of the border, Sox Nation was clambering for him back. In his absence, Francona had lost complete control of the clubhouse. Accusations of an affair with Hazel Mae came to light during his painful divorce. In an interview with Jeremy Schapp, Tito stated he had “accumulated some pain pills,” which naturally raised questions of drug abuse. Both those being mere speculation, and hopefully both untrue, can be forgiven and forgotten. But not the 7-20 beer and chicken collapse. Yet, when arriving in Boston for the postseason series in 2016, Tito was once again being revered, rightfully so, as a winner of 744 games in Boston, 2nd most all time by a Red Sox, only to hall of famer Joe Cronin. Boston is a passionate fan base, a win right now, what have you done for me lately, diverse group of folks. It’s easy to remember the good, forget the bad, and focus on today.
This is by no means an attempt to bash Francona, I’m merely comparing him to our current manager, and attempting to remind everyone that no matter who’s in charge, we’re going to whine and gripe anyways. Remember now, after three consecutive losing seasons, and one season too many of Bobby V, Farrell was re-acquired in exchange for Mike Aviles. Numbers wise, Farrell has done well. 412-362 record with Boston, and is about to pass Jimy Williams for 6th all time in a Sox uniform. 47% challenges overturned, not too bad either. What is often overlooked is how badly this team needed a change, and needed someone like John in the clubhouse. Dividends paid off immediately, culminating in a 3rd world championship spanning 10 seasons. After two subpar finishes, the Red Sox appeared poised in 2016 for another championship run, which did fall short, and overshadowed what was a great regular season. Yet here we are, one year later, on pace for exactly the same number of victories, but are now loaded with a revamped pitching staff, a healthy Kimbrel, flamethrowing setup guys, and a youthful insurgence that’s being led by potential 20/20 man Andrew Benintendi, along with a 20 year old phenom, who’s path out of the minors was made possible by the benching and releasing of Pablo. This is where we can start to give Farrell a little bit of credit. Despite some holes in the lineup which include a major decline in Betts’ batting average, Beni running the base paths with reckless abandon, and Xander providing the same amount of power that National Grid gives to the North Pole, the team is silently nipping at the heels of Houston for the AL’s top record. Go ahead, start spitting stats regarding bullpen management and usage. I get it. He is flawed, like 28 (Dave Roberts you can do no wrong) other major league managers. But for every time Farrell has walked across the foul line, tapped his right or left arm, taken the ball from one of his pitchers, only to see a lead disappear, you can find a game day lineup card that he put together that led to victory, in addition to well executed bullpen maneuvers. Anyone remember the 13 inning affair in St. Louis this May, where the bullpen combined for 7 shutout innings of 3 hit ball? How about the 29-6 three-game drubbing of Toronto where Marrero finally started cranking the ball? Yes, the players are mostly responsible, but there’s no way of telling what managers would have set the team up for 73 victories through August 24th. Luckily, we don’t need to. How the wins come, we shouldn’t care, as long as they’re coming.
I’m not advocating keeping John Farrell, not advocating firing John Farrell. I just want to state the obvious that is so easily forgotten: He came to a team that needed relief from Valentine, and has provided Boston with sports radio fodder, victories, a world championship, and a crack at one in 2017.