John Farrell was introduced as the new manager of the Red Sox last Oct. 23. He took over a last-place team lacking talent and cohesion. A franchise that once made Boston proud had become an embarrassment.
The Sox were careful to manage expectations, saying their goals were to return a sense of professionalism to the organization and build a team that would at least be competitive.
One year to the day later, the Red Sox will take the field at Fenway Park for Game 1 of the 109th World Series.
“A year ago I don’t think too many people around here were very happy,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said Tuesday. “I don’t know if we thought we were going to the World Series in a year. But is this great.”
For Game 1 starter Jon Lester, the transition started on the first day of spring training when Farrell addressed the team. After several seasons marked by internal dissension, Farrell clearly defined his expectations and assured the players they would be held accountable to meet those.
“He came in there with a presence. Came in there with his idea of how he wanted to run this team and stood up there in front of us and told us how he wanted it done,” Lester said.
“And I think the 40 guys or whatever that was in that room kind of looked around and it was like, ‘OK, let’s go do it.’ ”
It wasn’t that easy, of course. General manager Ben Cherington remade the roster with a series of mid-range free agent signings. The returning players improved and along the way many beards were grown.
The Red Sox never had more than a three-game losing streak and led the majors in scoring.
“We didn’t limit ourselves,” said Jonny Gomes, one of the free agents who quickly became a clubhouse leader. “I wasn’t here last year. I just knew I wanted to win now.”
For Lester, the Game 1 start brings back memories of his start in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies.
Lester was 23 then, a starter with only 27 games of experience in the regular season and two relief appearances in the postseason. With the Sox up, 3-0, in the Series, they scratched knuckleballer Tim Wakefield at Coors Field and went with Lester. The lefthander threw 5⅔ scoreless innings in a game the Sox won, 4-3.
“Kind of getting thrown into that position; wasn’t expected to get a start and kind of fortunately get that opportunity,” Lester said. “I just remember nerves. I remember just the anxiety of trying to just get to the field and calm down a little bit.
“Obviously tomorrow there will still be nerves; there will still be all that to be expected. But I think I know who I am a little bit more as a pitcher and what to expect from myself and what to expect from the crowd and all the different things that go along with getting a start in the World Series.”
Lester faced the Cardinals once in his career, in 2008, and has experience against only three of their hitters. But he has a career 2.49 earned run average in the postseason to draw from.
The Cardinals will start righthander Adam Wainwright, who has a 2.10 ERA over 16 postseason appearances and like Lester has been dominant this October.
“I think the world of Adam. He’s a tremendous person and competitor,” Red Sox starter Jake Peavy said. “He stands for all the right things. Our guys are going to have their work cut out for them.”
The Cardinals also have a potent weapon in catcher Yadier Molina, a “shut-down thrower” according to Farrell. He could limit to what degree the Red Sox can steal bases.
“We’re still trying to get our arms around it, trying to maybe be opportunistic in certain situations,” Farrell said. “We don’t know when they’re going to be yet. But he’s certainly a force to be reckoned with back there and you don’t want to take chances particularly with as well-pitched games as it projects to be with these two staffs. You think it might be a low-run game and outs are a premium.”
Two teams that dress in red are baseball bluebloods. The Cardinals have won 11 championships and the Red Sox six. They shared the best record in baseball at 97-65 and have been regular visitors to the World Series in the last decade.
The Cardinals have been to the Series four times in the last 10 years, the Red Sox three times. No other teams in baseball have been more often.
“Two historic franchises with a lot of history and a lot of success,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
The Sox and Cardinals are meeting for the fourth time in the Fall Classic. The Cardinals won seven-game Series in 1946 and 1967. The Red Sox swept the Series in 2004.
“You give credit where it’s due, and this team in Boston has done some amazing things to make this happen this year and in the past,” said Matheny, the catcher on the 2004 team. “Some of us have some pretty bad memories of being here in 2004, and we’re looking to kind of right that ship.”
The Red Sox cannot make history and change the collective psyche of a city like they did in 2004 by winning the World Series for the first time since 1918. But no team since the 1991 Minnesota Twins has gone from last place to the World Series title in a year.
“We’re here and nobody expected us to be here,” David Ortiz said. “Now we have to win four more games.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.