Same ship, different day: Farrell navigates calmer seas

by Jan-Christian Sorensen

Red Sox manager John Farrell’s focus is crystal-clear.

So is his mission: a return to normalcy for the front office, players, coaches and innumerable constituents of the Nation.

After a tempestuous nor’easter of a 2012 season that saw the Sox founder to the bottom of the AL East abyss, Farrell has led a spirited recovery effort to right the ship, scrape the barnacles off the hull and inspire renewed confidence on the field and in the clubhouse while offering more tranquil seas to an increasingly embittered and alienated crew of fans in stowage.

Credit Captain Farrell for not only keeping a firm and steady hand on the rudder but also re-injecting a desperately needed dose of grit, determination and drive back into the Hub club.

The results speak for themselves: As of April 28, a 17-7 record, a four-game win streak and sole possession of top spot in all of baseball.

Offensively, the Sox lead baseball in slugging percentage (.440), stolen bases (22) and triples (8) and are ranked second in runs (122), hits (219), RBI (122) and OPS (.786).

On the other side of the seams, Sox pitchers lead the game in wins, strikeouts (244) and have held opponents to a league-best .222 average at the plate, while posting the third-best ERA in baseball (3.49).

What was an albatross in 2012 is again one of the club’s strengths. Last year, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester went a combined 20-22 with respective ERAs of 4.56 and 4.82. Already this year the duo is a dazzling 9-0 with diminutive ERAs of 1.19 and 2.27. Felix Doubront shook off a rough first inning Saturday night to improve to 3-0. And while durable innings-eater and new addition Ryan Dempster is only 1-2 on the year to date, he’s fourth in the league in strikeouts (43).

The renewed resurgence on the rubber is not surprising, considering Farrell’s numbers while he served as pitching manager under Terry Francona from 2007 to 2010: under Farrell’s command, Boston’s hurlers ranked first in MLB in strikeouts (4,771), shutouts (49) and opponent average (.254) while finishing third overall in ERA.

Of course, Farrell is as big on ‘aw-shucks’ humility as he is on impressing upon his men the importance of being relentless, and keeping the ship under full sail.

“I think it’s just an attitude (with) which we go about our work, and that started in day one of spring training — how we prepare prior to every series, every at-bat that’s taken by each guy nightly, every pitch that’s thrown from a mound,” Farrell told CBS Sports Radio’s Jim Rome in an April 17 interview. “We have guys that are not only talented and have won in the past, but they’re very good teammates. They sacrifice for one another, and they’ve got one another’s back. And I think that all goes into that relentless approach that we’re in this together to hopefully achieve something special.”

While it wouldn’t be out of line for Farrell to accept some kudos for the club’s 180-degree turnaround and blistering line-drive start to the season, he shook off the praise, instead crediting the boys between the lines for the club’s reversal of fortune, and for the revitalization of a clubhouse that had been marred by dissent, back-biting, outright mutiny and, yes, the now-infamous chicken-and-beer debacle.

Thanks to the return of Farrell, what was polarizing is now galvanizing. Inclusion has replaced rancorous ostracism. All the oars are in the water and rowing in unison for the first time since the boat began taking on water back in late 2011.

“We wanted the focus to return back to the field,” Farrell told Rome. “It’s about the players… As long as we keep the game as the focal point then I think everything else kind of falls into line and that’s something we tried to set the tone with from the first meeting in spring training.”

For John Farrell and the legion of fans cast adrift in 2012, it’s the same ship — but it’s also a decidedly different, clearer day on the horizon.

Twitter: @jan_doh