Red Sox

Day 1 of the John Farrell Era: Where to go from here?

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Day 1 of the John Farrell Era: Where to go from here?

This afternoon at Fenway Park, in the shadow of many adorning plaques and Larry Lucchinos ego, John Farrell was introduced as the 46th manager of the Boston Red Sox. In honor of the event, here are a few more fun facts on the hire:

(Note: Actual fun may vary.)

This is the first time since 1934 that the Sox have replaced a manager after only (and exactly) one season. The last guy to take over under these conditions was Hall of Famer Joe Cronin, who went on to manage the Sox for 13 years. (Cronin was actually the playermanager during this time, but that might be asking too much of Farrell. Then again, who would you rather have in the rotation: him or John Lackey?)

Believe it or not, this is only the third time since 1966 that the Sox have changed managers after a losing season. Most recently, in 1995, Kevin Kennedy took over for Butch Hobson and led Boston to the AL East crown. In 1967, Dick Williams took over for Pete Runnels and kick started the Impossible Dream. (Amazingly, there have been only eight losing seasons total over this time. Hobson accounts for three of them.)

Farrell will become only the third John to manage the Sox, joining John McNamara and Johnny Pesky in the exclusive club.

And OK. Ive gone too far.

The truth is that Ive been stuck for a while trying to find an interesting way to start this column, and in turn, usher in this new era of Red Sox baseball: The John Farrell Era.

What you can say?

What does this even mean?

Where do they go from here?

You know, its funny. I feel like most of us spent the last 13 months praying that the Sox would snatch Farrell back from Toronto, as if his presence was the only way this franchise could ever turn things around. Come on, they need Farrell! Oh man, if they could only get Farrell!! For the love of God, do whatever it takes to get Farrell!!! Now that hes here? Eh. Its OK. But that overwhelming sense of comfort and optimism just isn't quite there. Instead, at least personally, its more a matter of indifference. The idea of Farrell was perfect, but the reality leaves me slightly lost.

A lot of that stems from the fact that the Red Sox problems go so far beyond the manager's perch. (That's easily my favorite kind of perch.) In the same way Bobby Valentine wasnt solely responsible for last season's toilet bowl, we know that Farrells can't single-handedly save the Sox. If weve learned anything from these last two years, its that unless the players are producing and the front office is in order, it doesnt matter what the manager does. Its not about just one guy doing his job, its about everyone working together. On the same page; with the same motives and intentions.

Of course, Farrell can help unify the Sox on that front. From everything weve heard, the push to bring him on board was a group effort on Yawkey Way. Finally, Larry and Ben wanted the same thing. As a result, this should improve their relationship (notice, I didnt say fix) and more importantly, create an atmosphere where Cherington doesnt feel the urge to take a deep breathe and a shot of tequila every time he needs to talk to his manager. On the other side, Farrells already garnered more respect from his players than Valentine ever did. And not only from the guys he previously coached in Boston, but also from members of the team's younger, more impressionable core. Under Farrell, at the very least, the Sox will start next season with a more positive mindset and greater sense of solidarity than they've had since August of 2011. Probably even earlier.

While we're on the positives, let's not underestimate the stabilizing effect that Farrell's arrival will have on the media. It's a shame that we even have to look at it in that way, but that's the reality of life in Boston. Even though it remains to be seen whether Farrell is the right hire, there's no question that he was the safest hire. As a result, the writers and TVRadio personalities who were so weirdly obsessed with extending the narrative of September 2011 and eviscerating Valentine before he even got started have been silenced. Naturally, once the season starts, there will be plenty of stories to embellish and reasons to overreact, but for now, Farrell has brought a certain level of calm to the media circus. It's left the psychos gagged and hand-cuffed to their keyboards and microphones. I hate that this is important, but it is.

As is Farrell's familiarity with Boston. In the end, the fact that he spent four years here as the pitching coach won't make or break his tenure. But there's no question that, at the onset, Farrell will benefit from his history with the Sox. And not just on the field and in the clubhouse, where he can build on previous relationships with his old players and use that to better connect with the new ones, but also in life. There's a big difference between Bobby Valentine arriving in a new city and having to spend those first few weeks bopping around town on his 10-speed, trying to figure out where the hell he is, and Farrell returning to a place that he once called home. Where he already knows the ins-and-outs of the facility. Where he already knows the best place to get coffee on his way to the park or grab a quick dinner after the game. Where he's already familiar with the traffic patterns, in on all the best shortcuts and generally accustomed to the city.

Still, I'm finding it hard to go all in on Farrell. And sadly, I think some of that is a result of a lingering distrust in ownership. In a weird way, the fact that Larry Lucchino was so aggressive and is so excited about bringing Farrell back makes the manager slightly less appealing in the eyes of the general public. Over the years, especially recently, we've been conditioned to believe that whatever Lucchino wants is wrong, that he's never entirely working in the best interest of the organization and its pre-2004 fan base. So, to know that Lucchino's enthralled by Farrell is to inherently question the motives and somehow assume the worst. Cherington's enthusiasm certainly eases some of that tension, but it's still there.

And then there's Farrell's less than stellar stint with the Blue Jays. Two seasons and a record of 154-170 (.475). Perhaps more concerning than his record (after all, it's been 20 years since any manager found success in Toronto, and we can't discount the effect that Jose Bautista's injury had on last year's unraveling), was the performance of the Blue Jays pitchers. Pitching is supposed to be Farrell's specialty, yet in 2011, Toronto ranked 11th (out of 14 teams) in the American League with a 4.32 team ERA. Last year, that number bulked up to 4.64, and once again ranked 11th in the AL.

On top of that, Farrell who has a reputation in Boston as an old school disciplinarian who demands order in his clubhouse also received a fair amount of criticism for the way he handled the personalities on the Blue Jays roster.

First of all, I know he took a lot of heat for the Yunel Escobar incident, but I'll give him a pass on that one. I'm not sure there's a manager in this league who would be prepared to deal with one of his players randomly taking the field with a homophobic slur written on his eye black. They don't teach that one in managerial school. If anything, it's an experience that Farrell will learn from, and in turn, become better suited to handle any future PR disaster. I don't think it's an indictment on his ability to run a team.

However, the words of super-veteran Omar Vizquel have to give you a little pause.

"It's part of the inexperience," the 45-year-old Vizquel recently said, in reference to issues surrounding some of Toronto's younger talent. "If you make mistakes and nobody says anything about it they just let it go we're going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We have to stand up and say something right after that mistake happened. We have to talk about it at meetings. We have to address it in a big way in the clubhouse."

He added: "I think the coaching staff has a big responsibility to kind of get in there and tie things up a little, have a bit more communication with their players and try to make this thing happen the right way."

Now, it's probably worth taking Vizquel's words with a grain of Venezuelan salt. He's an aging (or in this case, already well-aged), former All-Star who had been reduced to a non-existent role with the Jays. He's a prime candidate for bitterness, and to have skewed andor exaggerated view of what's "wrong" with today's younger players. But shortly after Vizquel's comments, Greg Zaun the former major leaguerRed Sox killer turned TV analyst joined in on the criticism.

"The atmosphere in this clubhouse and in this organization is consequence-free," Zaun said.

OK, so there's that. But at the same time, here in Boston we're well aware that just because a coach or manager struggles in one place, doesn't mean that he can't succeed somewhere else. In fact, it sometimes takes that initial failure for a coach or manager to realize his full potential.

Doc Rivers was fired in Orlando. Terry Francona was fired in Philly.

Bill Belichick went through hell in Cleveland. These days, he's a legend, but there were times during that first stint as coach when Belichick was one of the most hated men in that city. Sort of the same way people in Toronto currently feel about John Farrell.

And that's not the only thing Farrell and Belichick have in common.

Both were hired when their respective franchises were in flux, not so far removed from an era of relative success and at a time when ownership was being questioned for the way it handled business. Farrell and Belichick are both assistants from previous regimes, who failed as head coaches, but were always revered by the organization. Both were older, more traditional candidates who were chosen over sexier, "up-and-coming" coaches. (Remember when the Pats interviewed Marvin Lewis? It's OK, I didn't either.) Both approach the game with a front-office mentality, and can't be bothered by media BS.

And I'll stop right there, because the comparison's already dangerous. No one's expecting Farrell to reach the heights of Belichick. After all, it's pretty much impossible to reasonably project the kind of success that any new coach will have. There are just so many random factors and unpredictable twists and turns that ultimately play into their legacy.

How would we remember Bill Belichick if Adam Vinatieri never made that almost-entirely impossible field goal in the snow, or even more, if BB never stumbled on Tom Brady in the sixth round?

How would we remember Terry Francona if not for one stolen base?

Today, Doc Rivers is one of the most successful and respected coaches in the NBA. Depending on how long he wants to work, he could be headed to the Hall of Fame. But what if Kevin McHale had backed out of that ridiculous KG deal? What if the Big 3 doesn't exist? In that case, Doc's already well-settled into his TV career or tearing his hair out on the bench in a place like Washington or Golden State. You just never know.

So, is John Farrell going to be a good fit in Boston?

Yeah, sure. He'll fit fine. He'll help make things a little happier in the front office, and obviously erase the awkward disconnect between the manager and GM. He'll have the respect of the players, and very likely restore some order to that clubhouse.

But the point is, even after making nice in the front office and salvaging team chemistry, the Sox are only at the baseline of what it takes to make it back to the playoffs. It's like: "Great! They don't hate each other anymore!" Now, they're on par with about 30 other teams. Now, they have to figure out a way to compete.

And in that respect, who knows how Farrell will fair in Boston? As we speak, the Sox are coming off their worst season in nearly 50 years, and still have a long way to before Spring Training. There are so many significant questions lingering over this franchise, and the eventual answers will drastically alter Farrell's chances of success. To complicate matters, when it comes to most of those answers, Farrell won't have the final say.

Translation: His future is currently in the hands of a front office that's spent the last five years slowly chipping away at the best team in baseball until all that was left was 69 wins and the world's most dysfunctional and depressing circus.

Unless Ben Cherington's finally able to make some sense of things, while simultaneously fighting off Lucchino with a giant cross and 20 pounds of garlic, the identity of the Red Sox skipper is about as relevant as a conversation about former managers named "John."

Farrell knows this as well as anyone.

Today's press conference began with Ben Cherington at the podium, and he wasted no time in introducing Farrell to crowd. As you can imagine, Cherington laid the praise on pretty thick. After all, this was his chance to sell the media on his hire. He spoke glowingly about everything that Farrell brings to the table and why "he's the right man for the job." By the end, the Red Sox had hired the greatest manager in baseball history.

Cherington finally wrapped things up, then walked over to hand Farrell a Red Sox hat and jersey (fortunately, he resisted trying it on.) The two smiled and posed for pictures, before Farrell broke off to address the crowd.

"Good afternoon," he started.

So, what comes next?

Maybe, "Thank you all for coming"?

Or, "It's an honor to be back in Boston"?

Nope. He eventually got there, but instead, his first words into the microphone at his introductory press conference were: "Good afternoon . . . And Ben, you just said a lot of awful nice things, but we know it's going to come down to the quality of players and the roster when it comes to wins."

Cherington responded with a genuine laugh and a sarcastic "Thank you."

It was all in good fun. But that doesn't change the truth.

That it's really hard to get your hopes up about John Farrell's time in Boston, when there's still so much riding on whether he'll even have a chance.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

BOSTON -- Alex Cora is the 47th manager in Red Sox history, charged with reinvigorating a young clubhouse and improving on consecutive 93-win seasons that fizzled in the first round of the playoffs.

The team made the hiring of the 42-year-old Astros bench coach official on Sunday, a day after Houston advanced to the World Series and two days before the start of the Fall Classic. Cora will remain with the Astros until the Series is finished and has a three-year deal, with a club option for 2021.

A 14-year big leaguer from Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Latin manager in club history. He hit .252 in 301 games for the Sox from 2005-08. He was the most sought-after managerial candidate this offseason and arrives with a great reputation based on his personality, his prior experience in Boston and his season with the Astros. 

ALEX CORA: NEW RED SOX MANAGER

He knows Sox second baseman and leader Dustin Pedroia well. The last time Cora was in the World Series prior to this year was 2007. On Saturday, exactly 10 years after the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Astros finished off a rally after falling behind 3-2 in the series.

"You know, we've never been through this," Dustin Pedroia said after the Sox won Game 7 in 2007. "This is on the biggest stage. Everyone is watching these games. I remember the Angels series, I was nervous. Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.'

"Ever since then I kind of went out there, and I don't worry about anything but playing hard. I think everybody is doing that. Nobody cares about anything, just picking each other up and playing the game to win."

Early on, Cora will have to prove that his inexperience is not a stumbling block for a club in a win-now mindset. This season was Cora's only as a major-league coach. He's the first Sox manager to take the big job without prior major-league managing experience since Grady Little in 2002. 

Cora's ability to bond with players is his hallmark.

"Alex brings a lot to the table," Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "He's a guy that always is looking for information that he could use against the opposite team. And he's also, he provides that information to the player, which is great. He has good communication with the guys, respects the guys. He's always in the clubhouse getting to know the players, getting to know which buttons he could push on each player to make them go out there and play the game hard, which is great.

"I think I always feel that sometimes managers, they draw a very defined line between players and manager. And sometimes they get caught up not going to the clubhouse because they don't want to feel like they're invading their space. But as a player, I love when managers come to the clubhouse, sit down, talk to us, get to know us, ask about our family, about everything. And that really, for me, means a lot. So Alex does that real well."

Cora's hiring comes five years and a day after the Red Sox hired John Farrell. The choice could have been announced prior to Sunday, but the Red Sox were being respectful of the Astros' playoff run. 

In a statement released by the Red Sox, Cora said: “I am extremely honored and humbled to be named manager of the Boston Red Sox and I want to thank Dave, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy for giving me such a tremendous opportunity. Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans. At the same time, I want to express my appreciation for Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and the entire Houston Astros organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career. It has been a very special season and an incredible organization to be a part of and I am looking forward to the World Series and winning with this group.”

“We were very impressed when we interviewed Alex,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in the statement. “He came to us as a highly-regarded candidate, and from speaking with him throughout this process, we found him to be very knowledgeable, driven, and deserving of this opportunity. He is a highly respected and hardworking individual who has experience playing in Boston. Alex also has a full appreciation for the use of analytical information in today's game and his ability to communicate and relate to both young players and veterans is a plus. Finally, the fact that he is bilingual is very significant for our club.”

“As someone who has played in Boston and knows what it takes to win here, Alex is uniquely positioned to instill a championship culture,” team chairman Werner added in the statement. “Baseball is in his blood and we could not be more pleased to have found someone so accomplished to lead our team. Welcome home, Alex.” 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

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Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

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