BOSTON — Veteran Jon Lester gets the ball tonight for the Red Sox in Game One of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Fenway Park. And he spent part of a session with reporters Tuesday partaking in the usual chatter about his first Series game since winning the 2007 clincher in Colorado.
But his most salient comments about Boston’s surprising season came when he looked back at the very first day of spring training.
The Red Sox, remember, were a 69-93 tire fire last year under Bobby Valentine and most experts pegged them for a similar mark this year. The fact that Farrell, the pitching coach on Boston’s 2007 champions, high-tailed it out of Toronto to replace Valentine seemingly made no difference.
The new boss met his team in early February in Fort Myers, Fla., and told them which way was up. And they believed him.
“It was his defining moment as our manager this year,” Lester said. “He came in there with a presence, his idea of how he wanted to run this team. He stood up there in front of us and told us how he wanted it done. The 40 or so guys in that room kind of looked around and said, ‘OK, let’s go do it.’
“For me, that set the tone. Day one. First 20 minutes of the season. This is how I want it done and this is how you guys are going to do it. Nobody had any questions. Everybody went out there and did it.”
So what was the deep message? There wasn’t one really.
“He wanted us to work hard, be on time and play the game the right way. It was simple,” said Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli. “There were enough veteran guys here who really just wanted to win. No one is selfish. We want to play together and win a game. It started early in spring training and it got on as the season went on.”
Farrell was named Sporting News AL Manager of the Year on Tuesday and is a good bet to win the honor from the Baseball Writers Association of America when it’s announced next month. He’s trying to become the first former big-league pitcher to manage a World Series winner since Tommy Lasorda led the Dodgers past Oakland in 1988.
Asked Tuesday what “The Red Sox Way” meant to him, Farrell give this explanation:
“There’s a relentless approach to play a complete game every night,” he said. “I know that can be a broad brush but we look to be relentless in every aspect of the game. That’s a mindset and attitude we’ve worked hard at creating. I think that attitude is what’s allowed us to come back from so many deficits, never give an at-bat away and certainly play to the 27th out every night.”
Farrell, 51, is a hulking 6-foot-4 figure who had a middling career as a big-leaguer marred by elbow injuries. Farrell and former closer Mark Huismann are the only two players to pitch for the Bisons at both War Memorial Stadium (1987) and Coca-Cola Field (1995-96), with Farrell serving as a Cleveland prospect and then retread in his two stints.
When his career ended and he returned to Oklahoma State to get a business degree, Farrell seemed on a management track. He was Cleveland’s farm director for several years and built the Bisons’ beloved 2004 championship team, spending many nights in downtown Buffalo with his cell phone glued to his ear trying to find more players and checking in on others around the system.
But he went back into uniform in 2007 as pitching coach under old friend Terry Francona. Almost instantly, he got a Series ring that made him a hot candidate to someday take over a dugout on his own.
It happened in Toronto in 2011 but ended badly last year, with the Blue Jays agreeing to let him out of his contract by “trading” him once he had openly identified Boston as his “dream job.”
Farrell, who was well thought of in Toronto even though the team’s record had not improved much, is now regularly booed at Rogers Centre. He took all kinds of grief all winter long about leaving for Boston just before the Jays’ winter spending spree for what everyone thought would be a last-place team here.
Didn’t turn out that way. The Sox flourished as GM Ben Cherington eschewed the idea of a big-money signing like Josh Hamilton for several veteran role players who have won regularly in their careers like Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes.
While the Blue Jays suffered in Toronto, Farrell became the toast of the town here.
“I can’t speak to what took place in Toronto this season,” he said. “When Ben set out to execute his vision, his plan and the players he was able to identify to match that vision, and we assembled in Fort Myers, this was clear it was a group of veteran guys who had been in winning enviromments. And we were getting a core group back that was healthy.”
It’s all turned out fine. Farrell is in charge deep into October. Just like his old buddy Francona was six years ago. The Red Sox won in 2004 and 2007. If they win this year, that would be three titles in 10 years, unthinkable for a city that once went 86 years without one.