The chair is hot in the corner office at Fenway. John Farrell could very well be managing his final game when the Red Sox take on the scalding Houston Astros in Game 3 of the ALDS Sunday afternoon on Yawkey Way.
The Fire Farrell chorus is loud and angry in the aftermath of bookend beatings the Sox endured at Minute Maid Park. Boston’s season-ending collapse is bearing remarkable similarity to the fall fold of 2016, and if the Red Sox are routed a third time by the Astros, something has to happen.
This time it might be the manager.
It won’t be fair if Farrell gets fired. Manager John just finished in first place in back-to-back seasons, something no Sox field boss has done in more than 100 years. Farrell has a World Series ring in his pocket. He’s put out a lot of fires in this wacky, uneven, 93-win season. He’s been a masterful bullpen manipulator.
But if Sunday is another embarrassment, it’s likely that John Henry, Tom Werner, and Dave Dombrowski will entertain the notion of firing the skipper.
It has a lot to do with optics and obligatory pounds of flesh. The Red Sox know that folks haven’t grown to like this team. Back-to-back October collapses would require some heads to roll for a franchise that’s ever-focused on public perception and TV ratings. The Sox already have milked every ounce from the David Ortiz cash cow and they’re never announcing that they’ll stop playing “Sweet Caroline.” Firing the manager might get the talk shows off their backs for a few days.
There’s little doubt that Farrell would have been fired during the Sox’ second consecutive last-place season if he had not been diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2015. Sox bosses had no problem ambushing Ben Cherington in the middle of that campaign, and new guy Dombrowski arrived with zero loyalty regarding the manager he inherited. Farrell’s stunning illness gave the Sox a long look at Torey Lovullo, but there was no chance that Boston’s brave skipper was going to be replaced while battling chemotherapy.
So John Farrell got healthy, got another chance, and delivered back-to-back division crowns. But the noise and negativity came back faster than his full head of hair. And now, as the Sox teeter on the edge of collapse, Farrell knows that the buzzards are circling Fenway’s light towers.
Anyone seen Jason Varitek lately? Brad Ausmus? Gary DiSarcina is sitting right there on the Boston bench. Alex Cora looks ready in the Houston dugout.
The second-guessing that’s engulfed Farrell in this series has been harsh and largely deserved. Things got off to a bad start when he benched designated hitter Hanley Ramirez for Game 1, replacing him with Eduardo Nunez, who was playing on a caved-in knee. Everyone who saw Nunez collapse into a heap while batting against Toronto a week earlier suspected that he was done for the year. Not the Red Sox. And they looked ridiculous when Nunez blew out the knee and had to be carried from the field in the first inning of the first playoff game. This put Hanley out of sorts, and naturally Ramirez got hits in his first two at-bats, then made goofy gestures in the direction of the dugout.
Chris Sale was routed in Game 1. That’s the same Chris Sale with a history of fading in September. The same Sale whom Farrell sent back out to the hill in the eighth inning of an 8-0 rout (after a 21-minute top half of the eighth) so that Sale could get his 300th strikeout in Baltimore. That game alone didn’t cause Sale to flop in Houston, but it speaks to the typical Red Sox window dressing and the poor planning that has Sale out of bullets for October.
Things got worse for Farrell before Game 2 when he panicked and benched Rafael Devers in favor of Deven Marrero. Marrero struck out twice in two at-bats, and the Sox were well behind by the time Farrell got Devers into the game. Meanwhile, Chris Young — not good enough to be on the roster on Monday — was in the lineup as designated hitter in Game 2.
Farrell got nice work out of the bullpen from David Price in Game 2, but it was wasted in an 8-2 loss. As great as Price has been out of the pen, it only reinforces my belief that the Sox should have stretched him out and made him a starter for the playoffs.
Farrell gets some of the blame for this chorus line of soft starters. The manager made his bones as a pitching coach and now he’s got a raft of Cy Youngs and 17-game winners who keep blowing games early in the playoffs. How can anyone explain the playoff flops of Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Price, and Rick Porcello over the last two years? How has this team put itself in a position where the only thing standing between itself and another ignominious sweep is Doug Fister, a journeyman who has been dumped by two clubs in the last year? Fister is a legitimate gamer and a stand-up guy, but where are the fragile millennials who make all the money and win the awards?
While they were celebrating Ortiz every day at the end of last season, the Red Sox lost eight of their final nine games, including the three-game sweep vs. Cleveland. This year they have lost seven of nine and are facing another sweep.
It’ll be a sad day in Red Sox Nation if the Sox are broomed out of Fenway. Even sadder for the nattering nabobs of negativity trolling and patrolling social media and talk shows.
To paraphrase Richard Nixon, “What are they going to do now that they don’t have Farrell to kick around anymore?’’