Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Slugger and the Skipper: Ortiz, Farrell needed each other to win

David Ortiz carried the Red Sox offense this Fall Classic with a .688 average and 1.948 OPS. (USATSI)

BOSTON -- Most Valuable Player David Ortiz was to the World Series what the pyramids are to Egypt, what the Lamborghini is to automobiles.

Manager John Farrell was to the Red Sox what a guidebook is to a traveler, what a GPS is to a driver.

Apart, they each have plenty of intrinsic value.

Together, they moved what had been a down-and-out baseball team to places unimaginable as recently as February.

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At the moment, the Red Sox are planning their third World Series championship parade in 10 years for many, many reasons. Most of them flow like the Charles River from the slugger and the manager.

'A body can't function without a good head,' Ortiz said after the Sox dismantled St. Louis 6-1 in Game 6, the streets of Boston rocking like the Standells on one of the most glorious nights in Fenway Park history. 'And our manager is outstanding.

'He showed to all of us since Day 1 that he was the master piece that we need to get to this level. John, he did such a nice job with all of us. And our focus was coming in and do nothing but play baseball. Which was different from last year.'

When the Red Sox painted their latest masterpiece, Bobby Valentine long since had left the building. They rearranged the furniture in the clubhouse. And Ortiz finally had nursed his sore Achillles tendons back to health.

All you had to do was listen to Ortiz for a moment or two amid the roars Wednesday night to understand that exorcising the Ghosts of the Most Recent Summer Past started with the manager's office.

But to say Boston's triumph was as simple as swapping skippers is to wrongly oversimplify things. It is no random coincidence that there is one strong piece of red stitching connecting the 2004, '07 and '13 Red Sox world championship clubs. And that is Ortiz.

Sure, Farrell could show up at Boston's headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla., this spring and impart a fresh program and a positive new attitude.

But behind every successful manager is a strong clubhouse presence to help deliver the message.

Asked in the Fenway infield late Wednesday night what Ortiz's greatest asset is to a manager -- besides, ahem, his bat -- Farrell paused for several moments before answering.

'Gol darn,' Farrell finally said. 'Above and beyond the numbers, it's the presence. He's the link to so many championships, so many momentous occasions that we come to take for granted at times.

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'When he doesn't hit the ball out of the ballpark, you start to ask yourself, what's the matter? What's gone wrong? But the fact is, he never shuns the responsibility. He never turns away from a big moment. He's the guy who gives so many people in this uniform such confidence by the way he carries himself and by the way he goes about his business.'

Ortiz's performance both on and off the field this season belongs in a display case in the Smithsonian. And it peaked with a World Series display that will be talked about as long as they're playing baseball in October: He batted .688 (11 for 16), compiled a 1.188 slugging percentage and reached base in an unfathomable 19 of 25 plate appearances.

When it was finished, Farrell confided that he was surprised the Cardinals did not pitch around him until it was too late (they intentionally walked Ortiz twice, in addition to two other free passes, in Game 6).

'I really thought it would be a little more prevalent in Game 5,' Farrell said. 'That's where we made a slight adjustment to get a little deeper lineup behind David, thinking that they'd take the bat out of his hand. ... That's a clear-cut strategy as well as he's swung the bat all postseason. Fortunately, the guys behind him came through in a big moment.'

Describing the savagery with which Ortiz ripped through this Series is as futile as choosing adjectives to detail an Atlantic Ocean sunrise.

'I'd be doing him a disservice to try to put it into words,' Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. 'He's writing new chapters.

'I know great players are more likely to be great in any moment, but it's hard to see him in those moments and not think there's something different about him.'

The game face he carried through batting practice before Game 6 was a three-act drama unto itself.

'He's locked in,' Cherington continued. 'We've seen him locked in before, but to do it on this stage and in so many big moments, I can't add anything more to the legend that is there, but he keeps writing more chapters on his own.'

In Farrell, Ortiz had the perfect director. Two years ago, following the stunning September collapse, a Red Sox future without Terry Francona seemed as unimaginable as a Yankees future without Joe Torre once did.

Farrell had not even completely proven his mettle in his first managing gig, a two-year hitch with Toronto. But already familiar with the Boston landscape from working four years as Francona's pitching coach -- and, perhaps, most importantly, having established invaluable relationships during that time with pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in particular -- Farrell, a former big-league pitcher, was the perfect fit.

'You just try to be as consistent as you can with every guy you deal with,' Farrell said. 'There was a known commodity between Ben and I, Mike Hazen [assistant general manager], our owners. Maybe that's what drew them to me. They knew about me and the way things were to be done.

'There's a commitment to accountability. I know those can be buzzwords, but you have to set forth a plan and then we all have to hold ourselves accountable to that. And that was to come out and make the game the most important thing every single night, and that would direct all of our focus and all of our attention.

'In cities like Boston and New York, there are a lot of things that can pull at you. But we committed to each other to keep those distractions at a minimum and keep the focus on the field.'

Following the unbecoming soap opera that played out last summer, this professional Red Sox outfit was noticeably different from the very beginning.

'John did a tremendous job,' Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn said. 'Day 1, the opening day of spring training, I walked out of our first meeting all fired up. It was fun. The way he wanted to set the tone, clean the closet from whatever happened last year.

'It was a fresh start. Be aggressive from Day 1. Take offensive pressure to the other team.'

Let's be honest. Had Farrell delivered that message to, say, the Houston Astros this spring, the losses still would have piled up. But in Boston, the combination of a strong returning core and seven key free agents -- Cherington's winter went like Ortiz's autumn, he was 7 for 7 -- was the perfect starter's kit.

And a healthy Ortiz -- by mid-April -- immeasurably boosted the aggressive style.

Colbrunn, who first met Ortiz in the spring of 1997 when Papi was a young pup with the Twins and Colbrunn was an incumbent first baseman, marveled at Ortiz's ability to meet any challenge the Cardinals threw at him. He blasted an opposite-field Game 2 homer, over the Green Monster, on a full-count Michael Wacha changeup. In Game 6, again facing Wacha, he fought off 90-plus fastballs and low-80s curveballs in the same at-bat, on successive pitches.

The 19 times on base in 25 World Series plate appearances?

'Ridiculous,' Colbrunn said.

And another thing: What Fenway Park has hammered home since Colbrunn started working there every day is how vast right field is.

'In my opinion, I think he could have 500 home runs if he didn't play in this park,' the hitting coach said.

As it is, Ortiz has 431 -- and, now, three World Series rings.

'He's something special,' Colbrunn said, as if the entire region of New England wasn't already in on that little secret.

And it goes for Farrell, too. He said there's 'probably a piece of every manager I played for within me,' but noted that the four years working alongside Francona in the Red Sox dugout probably made the biggest impact.

Francona, the only man living who knows what it is like to manage the Red Sox to a World Series victory, has been trading text messages with his buddy Farrell for much of the postseason, including Wednesday.

'Tito's got a part in this one tonight,' Farrell said. 'There's no doubt about it. He reached out, said he was pulling for me, said he was pulling for us. And we know that he was with us in some small way. He shares in this one as well.'

But just as Cherington said Ortiz is writing new chapters, so, too, is Farrell. In a game that does not keep time, times change nevertheless.

Ortiz is 37, and the sand is nearly through his baseball hourglass.

Farrell is 51, with enough canvas left to paint plenty more masterpieces.

Their run together in all likelihood will be brief. But for one glorious summer, together, they ensured that it will be memorable.
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