For the past year, the Red Sox gave us little to cheer and even fewer reasons to hope.
They hit the re-set button for the second time in two months Tuesday.
Former pitching coach John Farrell returned to Fenway Park as manager of the Red Sox and showed - in a 30-minute press conference - why he is such a welcomed relief from his predecessor.
After it was over, looking directly into the cameras of State Run Media - Farrell delivered his first direct address to the Nation as manager: "This is such a unique place, there's such a tremendous passion and expectation. There's something that holds all of us accountable in the way we go about our work. I fully believe in Ben in his ability to support this roster and build to it. I would ask you to have faith in us. We will get back to where we all expect to be, and that's to play deep into the postseason year in and year out."
Farrell called Boston "the epicenter of the game" and spoke about how his experience in Boston from 2007-10 as Terry Francona's pitching coach allowed him to see first-hand the demands of the job, the passion of the fans and the energy created in the ballpark - especially when the team doesn't go 34-47. "It's an incredible city and an incredible baseball enviornment," he said - until you go 7-20 or 7-19 in September.
A year ago, Bobby Valentine's arrival was all about Bobby Valentine. In his press conference, he co-opted the memory of Tony Conigliaro by sporting the No. 25 jersey (How sickening is that in retrospect?) and talked all about himself and offered little when it came to baseball philosophy or how to win ballgames. He smiled for the cameras with John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington. This was going to be the Bobby Valentine show. And it was, as the Red Sox dissolved into dust and lost 93 games.
In the ash heap, Red Sox Nation was left empty. There was no more anger, disgust or even passion. When it all ended in the Bronx a few weeks ago, the patient had been clinically dead for two months. That was the bottom.
Farrell's contrast could not have been more obvious, welcomed or necessary. Tuesday, he spoke next to Cherington. Henry and Lucchino were avoiding the cameras - at least during the formal portion of the press conference. (Lucchino showed up for the NESN cameras a bit later on.) They were also noticeably absent in front of the cameras back in 2004 when Theo announced the Nomar trade and again last season with the Red Sox were able to sucker the Dodgers into consuming the contracts of Fan Cave, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford - along with Nick Punto. (Although I do believe a healthy Crawford could contend with teammate Matt Kemp for NL MVP honors next season.)
Seeing Cherington alone at the table with Farrell was another encouraging sign that he indeed finally got his man.
And here's what he had to say:
"We're eager to get started."
"I have a list of to-dos."
"We have to hold the players accountable."
"You don't sit there and map out your future - you are consumed by what you're doing today."
"(Trust) is important and yet it is something that can very fragile. You have to earn it ... Treat players like men it will come back to you ten 10 fold."
With Valentine's input, the Red Sox brain-trust gave us - among other things in the past 13 months - the great Marco Scuatro salary dump. Scutaro was named NLCS MVP Monday, leading the Giants back to the World Series. He hit a ridiculous .500 in the series (14 for 28) and has hit safely in 10 straight playoff games. Those 14 hits are five more than Mike Aviles had in September and 14 more postseason hits than the Red Sox have had since 2009. When Valentine was hired last year, this space and others spoke loudly about how he was not the answer to what ailed the Red Sox, nor was he the entire problem in 2012. Same with Farrell. He used to pitch, but hasn't make a major-league appearance since 1996. He won't drive in any runs. He's considered a liar up north these days and upset all 17 Blue Jays fans with the method of his departure. That all being said, this is a can't-miss move for the Red Sox.
Before lunch was over, we learned more about how Farrell wants to approach the game than we knew about Valentine after losing a year's worth of appetites.
Here's his fourth-place - at least last season - philosophy:
"An aggressive style is what we want. That takes place from the mound, on the base-paths and in the box. And that means attacking the strike zone early. This can be a very simple game if you apply a game of firsts to it. First-pitch strikes. First out of an inning and score first. Not to oversimplify things, but sometimes the mind can do crazy things to a pitcher and they start to get into rut and we want to be sure we put them in a positive environment and prepare them to the best of their ability."
Works for me.
Farrell addressed the core issue facing both the team - that being the starting rotation.
"It starts and ends with the strength of your starting rotation," Farrell said, who has already gotten to work on Jon Lester, who went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA in 2010 - Farrell's last season in Boston - but 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA last season. "We need some work in the rotation. Clay (Buchholz) and Jon are eager to get going even though the postseason hasn't even ended. There needs to be some reinforcements in rotation and then we need to get guys healthy. From the pitching standpoint there were some obvious things with Jon that we already talked about about his delivery that he drifted into that affected his overall consistency."
Does anyone think that Valentine noticed anything in Lester's delivery except the fact that it often resulted in home runs?
"Everything goes back to how you prepare and how you work," he said.
(Although it might be too soon to rule out any more double-fisting for John Lackey in the clubhouse, as Farrell later told several media outlets that he wants to work a balance when it comes to issues like beer in the clubhouse.)
No one asked Farrell if he prefers "original" or "extra crispy" - but it's certain Farrell won't be bringing any Popeye's to his first clubhouse sitdown with the pitching staff.
Now it's time for the real work to begin - signing David Ortiz and the cheerful Cody Ross, shoring up the rotation, trying to reclaim Daniel Bard, maintaining the bullpen (which got raves from Farrell today), hoping that José Iglesias might hit .187 next season - among other priorities.
Just look at the final 2012 standings - it can't get any worse.
For now, Farrell has his "dream job" - just in time for the Red Sox to wake up from this nightmare.
Enjoy the honeymoon.
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