TORONTO — In one month, the Boston Red Sox have completely changed the narrative. It’s a stunning turnaround under new manager John Farrell that virtually no one in baseball could have predicted.
The party line all spring was that last year’s 69-93 collapse was largely the fault of Bobby Valentine but that Farrell had a long way to rebuild because of an aging roster in his first year after high-tailing out of Toronto. It was common to see predictions of the Red Sox and Yankees at the bottom of the AL East, with most pundits picking Boston on the basis of the fact the Yankees will get the likes of Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter back this season.
But Farrell, the pitching coach of Boston’s 2007 World Series champions, is having instant impact on the likes of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli are molten at the plate. The bullpen is deep. The record is 20-9 through Friday. From 69-93 to 93-69? Or maybe even better?
It’s a long way from the September collapse in 2011 or The V Show.
“We’ve realized some of the benefits of the work these guys have put in during spring training,” Farrell told this corner last week in Rogers Centre. “Everyone is well aware of the story that was written at the end of ’11 and in ’12 but there’s nine new players here. There’s a completely different team attitude because of the changes [General Manager Ben Cherington] made with this roster, not only with the talent but the type of guys that they are. We’ve gotten off to a good start but it’s just that. A start.”
Farrell has obviously made a huge impact on Buchholz (6-0, 1.01) and Lester (4-0, 3.11), who starts today in Texas against Yu Darvish. But the bullpen is deep and they can even shuffle closers between Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan when one is scuffling or feeling a minor twinge like Bailey felt Thursday.
“We’re so strong down there,” said starter Ryan Dempster. “You allow yourself to get guys a couple days breather because there’s somebody behind them.”
“The one thing that really stands out about this group is no matter what happened last night, good or bad, we’re back to square one today and we’ve got this task in front of us and a game plan we try to execute,” Farrell said. “With that singular mindset, we’re not looking past today. We’re not worrying about if we do hit a bump in the road, which we fully anticipate at some point, we’re confident the way our guys will respond to that.”
The Sox are also flourishing at the plate from the return of Ortiz from the disabled list. Until going 1 for 4 Friday in Texas, he had an extra-base hit in nine straight games to equal the franchise record. He entered Saturday hitting safely in all 11 games he’s played in this season and in 23 straight dating to last season.
“Everybody associates extra-base and home-run power with David but he’s gotten better as a pure hitter,” Farrell said. “He’ll look to drive the ball early in counts and with two strikes he’ll take what opposing pitchers give to him and he uses the whole field. He’s got a rare blend of that high average and power capability.”
The Red Sox have taken seven of their first nine series and won their first four road sets for the first time since 1982.
“If you win every series, you’re going to be in a pretty good spot,” Hanrahan said. “It’s a team that’s swinging the bats hot, our starting pitchers are setting a tone and I wouldn’t want to be pitching against our team, that’s for sure.”
Tweet this, ump
Not a good scene all around between the Rays and umpire Tom Hallion in the wake of last Sunday’s game in Chicago that saw ace David Price complain about balls and strikes and allege the ump told him to “throw the ball over the [expletive] plate” on his way back to the dugout.
Asked by a pool reporter from the Tampa Bay Times about the alleged outburst after the game, Hallion shot back of Price, “I’ll come right out bluntly and say he’s a liar. ... I’m denying what he said I said pretty strongly. ... I said, ‘Just throw the ball.’ That’s all I said to him. . . . I’m just telling you, he’s lying. It’s plain and simple.”
Price then did what’s continually proven to be dangerous for athletes by taking to Twitter to criticize Hallion. Among his seven-tweet eruption: “Someone give me the definition of a coward please.”
Price, as well as teammates Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson and Hallion were all fined. Hallion was fined for his language and Price for violating baseball’s social media policy, which prohibits criticism of umpires. The Rays-Hallion relationship thus bears watching.
This corner got plenty of feedback from our discussion two weeks ago about the proposed $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field but the often-contentious talks about the work in Chicago really heated up Wednesday when Cubs owner Tom Ricketts threatened to move the team out of Wrigley – seriously – if the team didn’t get its way on the five-year plan.
“The fact is that if we don’t have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we’ll have to take a look at moving – no question,” Ricketts said.
The team claims it’s losing $20 million a year in revenue, in part because it doesn’t have the large scoreboard in left field that it wants to build. Owners of the neighboring rooftops are the chief hangup to the plan as they’re worried the changes will block their view into the park.
“All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum,” Ricketts said.
Where could the Cubs go? It seems inconceivable they would go anywhere, but the mayor of suburban Rosemont said that the village near O’Hare Airport has a 25-acre parcel the Cubs could have for free if they wanted to build a Wrigley replica. Stay tuned.
Around the horn
• Gordon Wittenmyer in the Chicago Sun-Times, with the opening to his story on the Cubs’ 4-2 loss Thursday to the Padres: “One day after Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts threatened to move the team, it got worse for Cubs fans. The Cubs threatened to stay.” Ouch.
• Buffalo Baseball of Hall of Famer Terry Collins is safe in New York. At least that’s what Mets GM Sandy Alderson told the Post on Friday in the wake of the Mets’ six-game losing streak. And that’s even though Collins is in the last year of his deal and is seemingly a lame duck.
“This isn’t just about wins and losses, it’s about how we approach the game and fully taking into account what he has to work with,” Alderson said. “... You go through a tough week and people like to immediately jump to conclusions and start discussing a doomsday scenario. A good first week isn’t necessarily any more of an indication than a bad fourth week.”
• Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton was away from the team this weekend to return home to Wisconsin for the funeral of his 86-year-old father. Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer and former Bisons announcer Jim Rosenhaus, Hamilton’s daily sidekick on the air, took over as the main voice for the series against the Twins.
Rosenhaus worked Friday’s game with former Indians manager Mike Hargrove. His partner Saturday and today? SportsTime Ohio analyst and modern-era Bisons strikeout leader Jason Stanford, who played for the Herd for parts of eight seasons (2001-08). No other player has appeared for Buffalo in more than six.
• The Elias Sports Bureau comes through again with this nugget: There were four teams in the AL East that got shut out Friday night (the Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees). The only other time that’s happened was Sept. 24, 1976, when the Red Sox, Yankees, Brewers and Tigers were all blanked.
• Former Canisius College star Kevin Mahoney got his first callup to Triple-A last week, spending five games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before returning to Double-A Trenton. Mahoney, 25, went 3 for 11 with two RBIs for the RailRiders. He was the Yankees’ 23rd-round pick in 2009 after winning MAAC Player of the Year honors that spring.