Red Sox

Drellich: Farrell, Red Sox weather constant trouble to win A.L. East

Drellich: Farrell, Red Sox weather constant trouble to win A.L. East

BOSTON -- From nasty weather in the finale to a season full of injuries, between an airplane ambush and stolen signs in the dugout, the Red Sox’ division title was more a lesson in recovery than a tutorial in excellence.

After 161 games and a throwback scare from the Yankees, the standings are a reward for crisis aversion as much as dominant play.

“We don’t make anything easy,” said Mookie Betts, who homered in Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Astros. “But I think that’s why it’s fun for us.”

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You never banked on this: John Farrell is the first manager in team history to win three American League East titles. His Red Sox have also captured the East twice in a row, another first in Sox history. 

But this year’s team stands apart from Farrell’s previous division winners.

In 2013 and 2016, the Sox were coming off last-place finishes. The '13 club took the division lead comfortably before the final weekend, propelled by a recovering city in the wake of the Boston Marathon. Last year’s team was an offensive juggernaut, anchored by the mostly unstoppable David Ortiz.

This year’s group drove full speed over potholes with a damaged suspension for six months and somehow never broke down. It can't be said that everything was handled perfectly or well, but in the aggregate, it was handled well enough.

"I think [Farrell has] done a great job," Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. "It’s a tough job. Managing is a tough job, period. I think it’s a tougher job here than maybe anywhere else. The scrutiny you receive. Being in the game as long as I’ve been in the game, I’m amazed somewhat at the scrutiny aspect of it. 

"And then when I look at the names behind his desk, the number of pictures and how few guys have stayed a long time. It just shows you it’s a tough job. He’s done a great job. He’s a tough guy. He’s a smart baseball man. He’s got a good staff around him, too."

In Ortiz’s absence, there is one player who fits that mostly unstoppable mold: Chris Sale. In his eighth season in the majors and first Boston, the Sox ace is going to the postseason for the first time.

"I'm 28 years old, so about 23 years,” a champagne-drenched Sale said of how long he envisioned being a part of a celebration like Saturday’s. “This has been a long time coming. I'm enjoying this about as much as anybody. A lot of hard work went into this. It's a long season. We had a lot of guys put everything they had on the field the entire season. To have this right here, it's the best.”

But little else about the Sox qualified as unstoppable, or constant, outside of Sale and Craig Kimbrel. 

The personnel in the bullpen evolved over time, yet the performance was consistent throughout. David Price went down, Doug Fister arrived. The home runs left, Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers arrived, and enough offense came through to power the Sox to 93 wins, matching last year’s total. That’s borderline stunning, given the drop in offense.

Now Price is re-emerging from two significant injury layoffs in grand fashion. He had a pair of gigantic seventh-inning strikeouts Saturday, including a threat-ending punchout of George Springer with the bases loaded and the Sox ahead 5-2.

“It was a turbulent year, but he is one hell of a pitcher,” Sox owner John Henry said of Price. “It was 2008 when he came in and shut us down from the bullpen [with the Rays in the postseason]. Maybe we'll see that again this year. I think we will.”

Henry said he was never really worried about this year’s group losing the division down the stretch. There's a more confident man than many in Boston. 

“We would really have to blow it," Henry said, "and I didn't think we would.”

But the Yankees’ run at the end was just another in a long list of troubles the Sox endured.

How Farrell handled Price, how Farrell and Dustin Pedroia handled the dust-up with the Orioles at the start of the year -- all that gives way now to thoughts of Pedroia playing through pain, and Farrell, Manager John himself, taking a place in the Sox’ record books.

“You know what, I haven’t really given it a whole lot of thought where [this year] stacks up with others, and I don’t really pay a whole lot of attention to it,” Farrell said.

Farrell was being duly modest, deferring to his players. But, there really hasn’t been too much time to give it any thought. There's been much too trouble along the way.

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Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

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Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Don’t confuse the goal of a normal spring training with the likelihood one will follow.

Tyler Thornburg’s time with the Red Sox has been an ordeal. He’s optimistic he can have a regular spring training after undergoing surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in June, a surgery that included the removal of a rib which is now on display at his parents’ house. 

He said Saturday, in fact, there’s a “very good chance” of a normal spring. But there’s also a chance his build up to regular-season form runs unevenly. And that would be OK.

“I started throwing Oct. 2, that’s when they kind of gave me the go-ahead to go tossing,” Thornburg said Saturday at Winter Weekend. “So I’ve been building up slowly since then, just trying to make sure we don’t have any setbacks or things like that, and ramp it up at a good pace. I’m throwing at 120-140 feet, so it’s about the pace I’d normally be on, granted I’d know 100 percent before where I was [under normal circumstances]. So things could be a little different."

Consider a few other things Thornburg said Saturday at Foxwoods.

“I don’t really think any of us really know how quick I’m going to bounce back necessarily as far as how quickly the recovery’s going to go in spring training after an outing,” Thornburg said. “But hopefully I mean it’s fantastic, and we can kind of just keep going.”

A bit of natural uncertainty. He missed an entire season, and the reason he missed an entire season is had a lot going on medically. 

What appeared to be a shoulder injury was far from your usual, say, rotator cuff matter. His was a nerve issue.

“Two of the neck muscles were incredibly hypertrophied, like overgrown, and they just started squeezing on the brachial plexus, where all the nerves run down,” Thornburg said. “I’d be sitting there watching a game and just a nerve thing would hit me and I’d almost get knocked over by it. As well as the first rib was getting pulled up and my hand would just turn red some days if I was just standing there, cutting off the blood circulation. Then all the scar tissue and buildup along the nerves they had to go and dissect all that off there.”

So the injury wasn’t simple, and now, the recovery process is really a whole body matter. 

"There’s a lot off things your arm has to get used to between using different muscles, as well as my arm was kind of working through a scenario where it was trying to overcompensate for this and [trying] to relieve that,” Thornburg said. “So just worked a different way. Now your body has to remember how to actually properly work again. It’s a lot of neuromuscular stuff.”

Thornburg noted the possibility too he could be ready to go to start the season but not really ready to go back to back yet. Would the Sox then carry him on the big league roster, or continue to build him up elsewhere? 

Velocity won’t be there right away for Thornburg, he said: “But I mean that’s what spring training is for for most guys anyway.”

There’s a lot of optimism, but naturally, there’s a lot to be seen. 

“The rehab process, it's been a massive rollercoaster,” Thornburg said. “It really has. But I mean, I've been trying to take it week to week which has been a lot easier. There's the good days and bad days, just different kinds.”

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Coming off a phenomenal season, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel spent the offseason in Boston. Not to be closer to Fenway Park, but for proximity to something far more important: the city’s first-rate medical community.

Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia Joy, was born in November with a heart issue.

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“It’s been a lot,” Kimbrel said Saturday at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. “My wife and I, we’ve kept it kind of private. But when she was born, she had some heart defects so we decided to stay in Boston and work with Children’s Hospital and just been going through that ordeal and it’s had its ups and downs but she’s doing great right now."

Focusing wasn't always easy in season, but Kimbrel said his daughter's condition has motivated him even more.

“They always say when you have a child, things change and they have," he said. "I’m definitely more focused towards her and her needs and our family needs. It’s just one day at a time and give everything I got. It’s real easy to look at her and understand everything I’m doing is for her and it makes it a lot easier.”

Kimbrel and his wife, Ashley, found out early in the 2017 season that they would be staying in Boston for the winter and were preparing.

“Everything has kind of gone as planned so far,” Kimbrel said. “She’ll have another surgery during spring training, so I’ll come back to Boston for a week and do that, but it’s been good. It’s definitely been tough, but one of the happiest, joyful times of our life.”

"Being in Boston, we feel blessed, because the doctors are the best in the world. Being able to work with them has been great.”

Kimbrel said his wife has stayed in touch with Travis Shaw’s wife. The Shaw family has had a similar experience, Kimbrel said.

“It seems like they’re doing pretty good,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been very encouraging to see.”

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