He tipped his cap. John Farrell, given to spontaneity about as much as he’s given to finishing out his contract, looked into a braying crowd as he walked away from home plate after the exchange of lineup cards and impassively removed his cap in a mocking gesture, getting a fist-bump from rail-bird Jonny Gomes who was leaning over the protective fence in front of the Boston Red Sox’s dug-out.
It’s on, Toronto. The pursuit of the American League East has begun. That three-game series against the Cleveland Indians? Meh. The home opener was flat, devoid of the usual foolishness; the emotional equivalent of an R.A. Dickey knuckle-ball.
No, the business part of the season started Friday night at the Rogers Centre with the return of Farrell, who after over-seeing a train-wreck as Blue Jays manager in 2012 asked the club expedite a move to what he called his “dream job” despite having another year remaining on his contract.
The whole industry knew Farrell wanted to manage the Red Sox; many in his own clubhouse believed he had one foot in Fenway Park the second that the predictable Bobby Valentine implosion moved to a point of no return. It was Adam Lind who famously said the Blue Jays noticed an “extra spring” in Farrell’s step when the Blue Jays played a September series in Boston.
Was that enough closure for Toronto? Jeering at Farrell as he walked into the outfield for the start of batting practice, wearing a warm-up jacket over his jersey top and doing so throughout the game, telling him how much he sucked and how much of a traitor he was and holding up signs such as the one that read ‘You were not our dream manager?” Serenading him with boos when he came out to check on the status of Jose Iglesias after he was hit by a Josh Johnson pitch in the second inning? Tough to tell.
This is a unique situation for this city, which has seen athletes quit on a team (Vince Carter) and ballplayers who never lived up to expectations (A.J. Burnett) and has never let them forget it – in Carter’s case, for years. Having a manager quit for a lateral move to a detested rival is something else, especially a rival whose boozy, self-important fans tend to make jack-asses of itself when it comes to town.
Get back to us in August, when the Red Sox are here for three mid-week games. And keep this in mind until then: loud, unruly crowds are nothing out of the ordinary for the Red Sox when they play on the road. They know how to handle things; and games such as Friday’s 6-4 Blue Jays loss reveal that for all of general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ trading there are still some not-ready-for-prime-time players (pitcher Jeremy Jeffress, come on down) and others such as EmilioBonifacio who need to be better in the harsh glare of the AL East.
This ain’t Florida, any more, and while Bonifacio’s wonderful offensive skills make him a threat this team needs Brett Lawrie ASAP so that Maicer Izturis, a much better second baseman than Bonifacio, can slide over. Bonifacio will need to get his at bats as a designated hitter or bench player.
It matters not that Farrell said nice things about the city and team on Friday. “It was a great crowd,” he said later. “Great energy and atmosphere.” His opinion is of no consequence here. But we will give him credit for this much: normally as dexterous and believable as Mitt Romney – Farrell really does favor him in mannerism and bearing – he almost revealed a bit of soul in describing what transpired as a “rare and unique opportunity.” The hat-tip? “Again, this game is about the players,” he said. “They (the fans) were here to have fun. I thought I’d have some fun, too.” It was a better performance than his ham-handed explanation during a spring training visit to Dunedin, when he urged Toronto reporters to remember that he had in fact been traded. Right.
Farrell’s replacement, John Gibbons, wanted no part of what was to come before the game, noting simply that if Farrell hadn’t left, he wouldn’t have his current job. Jose Bautista can be impolitic about umpires, but he offered an emotionally detached observation that he’d rather have someone who wanted to manage the team and there is no reason for the new Blue Jays to have a hate on for the Red Sox’s skipper.
The most honest man in the building was Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, who told Sportsnet 590/The Fan’s ‘Tim and Sid Show’ that under Farrell the Blue Jays “tried to re-invent the wheel a bit.” He relayed how Gibbons got in his face on Thursday. “I missed a sign, and I came into the dug-out and he was all over me,” Arencibia said. “We didn’t have that last year. A lot of mistakes made last year were not handled as well.” Leadership, was the word Arencibia went on to use.
This series is expected to draw crowds of 40,000-plus for each game, and security was heightened at the Rogers Centre, with personnel wearing batting helmets stationed along the outfield foul lines during batting practice. Anybody who has seen Farrell in a dugout will tell you he was noticeably nervous before the game, standing there flexing the lineup card as he waited for the umpire crew to take the field. Camera shots showed the same tight smile as the crowd chanted his name derisively at various points of the night the 2013 regular season officially started.
Somebody remind Emilio Bonifacio, OK?