BOSTON -- A little more than a year ago, with the worst Red Sox season in almost half a century winding down, it became apparent that John Farrell was the team's first choice to become its new manager.
In turn, that led some to ask: Why?
What, they wondered, was the fascination with a manager whose own team was kept out of the American League basement only by the presence of the Bobby Valentine-plagued Red Sox? What was the attraction of a manager who had never finished with a winning record?
A year later, those questions seem foolish with the benefit of hindsight.
Farrell has overseen a turnaround that has the Red Sox improving by a minimum of 25 wins -- and counting. And Friday night, it was capped with the clinching of the American League East, the franchise's first in six seasons.
The division wasn't won by default, or some flukish second-half winning streak, either. The Sox broke from gate 20-8 and never were more than three games out of first place at any one time during the season.
From Memorial Day forward, the Red Sox spent a grand total of seven days out of first place and were never more than a half-game out of the top spot in the division.
One of the reasons the Sox sought Farrell last fall -- as they had the autumn before, only to be put off by the Blue Jays' asking price -- was his pitching acumen, and more specifically, his familiarity with key Red Sox pitchers Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and others, many of whom enjoyed their best big league seasons when Farrell was the team's pitching coach from 2007-2010.
Sure enough, by early June, Lester and Buchholz were a combined 15-2, and the Red Sox were off and running.
But Farrell's real contributions can't be measured in the standings or on a stat sheet.
Following the disastrous September of 2011, during which the Sox sputtered to a 7-20 finish and fired Terry Francona, the Sox doubled down on disaster and hired Valentine, who divided the clubhouse and the organization within months.
By last September, the Red Sox weren't a model franchise, as they had been for most of Francona's tenure. Instead, they were a punch line.
The players came off as entitled, and the money misspent on poorly conceived free agent signings could have lifted Third World countries out of despair.
Even before the first round of live batting practice, before the first bus trip to Sarasota, Farrell began to turn things around.
He established a chain of command and projected authority. He delegated to his coaching staff and communicated with the players.
When he was tested by Alfredo Aceves, he responded by asserting himself and putting the enigmatic pitcher on notice. When Aceves behaved bizarrely after a July callup, he was effectively exiled for good.
Farrell made sure his players knew he was running a meritocracy. When Will Middlebrooks slumped, Farrell made playing time available to Jose Iglesias. And when Iglesias clearly outperformed the incumbent third baseman, Middlebrooks got shipped to Pawtucket for additional seasoning and a serving of humble pie.
When Stephen Drew slumped offensively in the first half, Farrell showed patience, extolling his reliability in the field and expressing confidence that his bat would come around. In the second half, it did.
He showed a similar confidence in Jonny Gomes early, knowing that Gomes' presence in the lineup went beyond hits and homers. Before long, Gomes became the club's emotional focal point. He seemed to pick exactly the right spot to work role players like Mike Carp into the lineup.
Along the way, Farrell navigated his way past the usual obstacles. He lost not one but two closers for the season to injuries, and calmly chose Koji Uehara as his third option. The move worked brilliantly.
When the acquisition of Jake Peavy gave the club more starters than it needed, Farrell made it work while managing to avoid bruising egos.
There were no mixed messages eminating from the manager's office, no passive aggressive swipes at staff members. The one constant -- cliched as it might have been -- was the focus on that night's game.
He might not have gotten off clever one-liners or steered the spotlight on himself. But he gave the Red Sox what they had lacked for the past 18 months: a steady hand, a sense of stability and a laser-like focus.
It didn't take him long to win the players' respect. It didn't take him long to win a division title.
And along the way, he reminded everyone why the Red Sox had wanted him to be their next manager, twice.