World Series - St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox - Game Six

John Farrell, Shane Victorino and the Boston Red Sox: What a difference a year makes

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BOSTON — In October 2012 John Farrell had just finished a 79-83 season managing the Toronto Blue Jays. Which was worse than his first year as Blue Jays manager. There were rumblings that the Red Sox might want to hire him to replace Bobby Valentine and most Blue Jays fans were OK with that. He hadn’t shown them anything, they felt, and they could probably do better.

In October 2012 Shane Victorino had just posted his worst offensive season in six years. And he finished it up in Los Angeles of all places, having been traded to the Dodgers in midseason. It was the Phillies’ way of telling him “no, we don’t need you anymore and we’d rather not even have to pretend to be interested in your services when you hit free agency this offseason.” With several outfielders on the free agent market it seemed that Victorino would have to scrounge for a job, let alone a decent free agent deal.  Some folks even suggested that he may be done as an effective major leaguer.

In October 2012 the Boston Red Sox had just finished one of the most nightmarish years in their history. Indeed, it had extended back 13 months to their 2011 collapse, in which the Sox had snatched ignominy from the jaws of victory, and lasted all 2012 long. Bobby Valentine was hired, lost control of his team from almost the get-go, and then “led” the Red Sox to a 69-93 record and a last place finish.

What a difference a year makes.

Wednesday night, as he accepted his World Series MVP trophy, David Ortiz said that, as the year began, he didn’t necessarily think that the Red Sox could win a World Series championship. But that started to change once Farrell returned to the Red Sox (he was the pitching coach from 2007 to 2010), Ortiz said. Always a prickly personality, if David Ortiz says you got his attention, you’ve truly made an impression. And Farrell certainly had an impact. A team that couldn’t stay out of the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2011 and 2012 went about their business quietly and confidently in 2013. You have to give credit for that to John Farrell.

MORE: Ortiz slugs way to World Series MVP

You have to give Boston general manager Ben Cherington credit for Victorino. Not many people thought a three-year, $39 million gamble on Victorino was a good one. Indeed, it was widely mocked. Part of the mocking was because, in most people’s minds, Victorino was a center fielder who had lost his center fielder’s skills. Signing him to play right field — which he played spectacularly — ended up being a master stroke. Victorino hit .294/.351/.451 and stole 21 bases as well. And while injuries and fatigue sapped him somewhat down the stretch, he drove in seven runs with two swings of the bat — a Grand Slam in the ALCS and a bases-clearing double in Game 6 of the World Series — that iced the Sox’ pennant and World Series title.

And this Sox team? Yes, they technically went from last place to first in the space of a year, but it’s not the sort of team we normally praise as a worst-to-first team. That’s usually reserved for teams which have had long histories of futility and then wildly surpassed expectations.  No one expected the Sox to win the World Series as the season began, but most thought they’d be respectable. And most knew that with the brains in their front office and the resources at their disposal, the Sox wouldn’t be down for long.

MORE: Who came up big in possible Fenway finales?

But in some ways their accomplishment was even more improbable than that of your typical worst-to-first team. There was rot and negativity and shame in Boston a year ago. There were players who could be excused for looking a year ahead to free agency. People who, if they were betting the smart money, would never have bet on this team to flush out all of the toxins of 13 bad months, regroup and put forth an effort as dominant as the one they showed throughout this past year.

A year passed, but time doesn’t always heal all wounds, and even when it does, it doesn’t usually do it so quickly.  But John Farrell, Ben Cherington, Shane Victorino and several others put in the energy that fought back the entropy. And because of it they will spend the next year as World Series Champions.

Red Sox manager John Farrell willing to use Koji Uehara for more than three outs if necessary

World Series - St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox - Game Two
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Closer and ALCS MVP Koji Uehara didn’t have to throw too many pitches last night. He had tossed his third pitch of the night when Jon Jay hit the infamous ground ball to Dustin Pedroia, starting the chain of events that led to the walk-off obstruction call. As a result, Red Sox manager John Farrell said he is willing to use Uehara for more than three outs in Game 4 if the need arises, per Alex Speier on Twitter.

Uehara last pitched more than one inning in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Tigers. During the regular season, he did it nine times, allowing a run in just one of those nine appearances.

The night John Farrell embraced chaos

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three
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ST. LOUIS — There’s a cliche about managers putting their players in the best position to succeed. A corollary to that is having the best players in the right position, at the right time. Do those things as often as possible and you’re more likely than not to win, right?

Well, sometimes. The Red Sox tested this rule to its absolute limits in Game 3 and, while they got away with it for a few brief minutes, they didn’t for long. John Farrell eschewed conventionality and embraced chaos. But chaos would not cooperate.

It started out defensibly enough, with Farrell trying to get the best matchups he could in the top of the seventh. With Stephen Drew struggling mightily at the plate, Farrell sent Will Middlebrooks in to pinch hit for Drew. That didn’t work — Middlebrooks popped out — but hey, it made some sense. Farrell decided to keep Middlebrooks in the game, sending him in to play third, moving Xander Bogaerts to short.

Which is no real biggie. You gotta try to generate offense if you can. It just didn’t work out. And it makes sense to leave Middlebrooks in. Your roster is only so big, it’s a tie game and you can’t just burn position players. You carry on.

Then in the bottom of the seventh Matt Carpenter hits a ball to short. It’s not the easiest play ever. Bogaerts took a less-than-perfect path to the ball and didn’t square himself to throw it to first. Carpenter beats a throw that David Ortiz couldn’t dig out of the dirt. Maybe even a good first baseman doesn’t dig that out. But I think Stephen Drew makes that play more quickly and cleanly than the relatively inexperienced Bogaerts. Regardless, a runner is on first base.

After Carlos Beltran is hit by a pitch to put another runner on, Matt Holliday comes to the plate. He doesn’t tattoo the ball. It hits the ground not too far in front of the plate as it shoots down toward third and just eludes Will Middlebrooks’ glove.  Does it elude Xander Bogaerts’ glove?  I don’t think it does. It was so close and Bogaerts has that much of a better step at third base. We’ll never know, though.The ball kicked around the left field corner, two runs scored and the Cards took a 4-2 lead. Farrell, while not making any blunders, had less than his best in two critical places and it cost him.

And at that point, Mike Matheny had it all set up: the right people in the right position at the right time. Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal set to throw the eighth and ninth. We saw this in Game 2. We saw this much of the end of the season. Two young studs throwing near triple digits. A Boston team that has often seemed helpless against power pitching this postseason. Good. Night. Irene.

But then baseball happened. And baseball, no matter how much we think we know about it — no matter how much authority, earned or otherwise, we assert with respect to it — occasionally says “ha.” It reminds us that almost all predictions are just guesses. Educated guesses at times, but still just guesses because anything can happen. Balls get through a first baseman’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series. Near-cripples hit home runs off Dennis Eckersley in his prime. Nothing so grand as that happened here, but what seemed highly improbable became reality: Martinez and Rosenthal blew it. The Red Sox dinked, plunked and doinked their way back into a 4-4 tie. Take that probabilities. Chaos will have its way.

At this point I feel like John Farrell started to appreciate the power of chaos. And maybe began to think that he could use it to his advantage. Because at this point he seemed to embrace chaos with both arms and to eschew the notion of matchups and the ideal deployment of resources altogether. How else can we explain Farrell allowing Brandon Workman to face Matt Holliday in the eighth with runners on base when his best reliever — Koji Uehara — was sitting in the bullpen?  But wait! It worked. Holliday flied out and the threat was over.  And maybe it emboldened Farrell even more. What else explains Farrell allowing Workman — an American League pitcher, mind you, — to bat in the top of the ninth inning of a tied World Series game while his best available hitter — Mike Napoli — sat on his bench?

Hell, Farrell wasn’t just eschewing the ideal. He was rejecting the whole idea of the ninth inning mattering at all. Why else would he punt his team’s half of it so decisively? Why else would he head into the bottom of the ninth, on the road, against a team which seems to have more crazy voodoo working in its favor than any team, without using all of his weapons? And continue to do so, not even calling on Uehara until there was a runner on base.

Whatever his reasons, baseball’s unpredictable chaos decided it had led him on enough. It went back to wreaking havoc as it will, this time in the form of the most improbable demolition derby of a game-ending World Series play in recent memory. In a fielder’s choice/nailed at home/interference/walkoff win.

Going with the best matchups doesn’t always work. Embracing chaos doesn’t always kill you. But there’s a reason why managers usually play the percentages. They respect the power of chaos and do what they can to keep it at bay. And I bet John Farrell does so more regularly as long as this World Series continues.