TORONTO -- This is what it was like at ground zero for John Farrell's return to the Rogers Centre on Friday night.
"You popped your head out of the dugout, they were waiting for him," Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said.
"There was a lot of venom coming out of the stands. A lot of hand gestures, a lot of facial gestures, gruesome. Some of the comments were well below the belt. You stuck your head out, they were waiting, hatred in their eyes, screaming obscenities.
"They didn't mind if there was a child or woman sitting there. These people, it was like, let it rip and say whatever you want."
Lovullo said he couldn't help but be impressed by the coordination of a crowd of 45,328 chanting in unison, at least a half dozen times through the course of the evening, "F--- you, Farr-ell."
For the first time since he left last fall as manager, Farrell was returning to the city that took great umbrage to his decision to leave the Blue Jays with a year left on his contract to become manager of the Red Sox. He called the Sox posting a dream job, further inflaming the populace.
"That might have been the best thing I heard tonight," Lovullo said. "Somebody yelled, 'We have our dream team, now that Farrell's gone.'"
Between them, Farrell and Lovullo have nearly 60 years in pro baseball, as players, coaches, managers. Neither one of them had ever seen a manager subjected to such a display of naked hate, one in which the boos rained down on Farrell any time he appeared on the field, from the time he took out the lineup card through his last pitching change. No one else has, either.
Through it all, Lovullo said Farrell remained undisturbed.
"John has a really good ability to slow things down, stay in the moment and think things through clearly in a crisis situation," Lovullo said. "This wasn't a crisis, but he could easily have been distracted. He wasn't. He was unfazed by it."
Before the game, Lovullo said, Farrell was joking with the coaches about some of the stuff they were hearing out of the stands. "We were laughing, giggling, having some fun with it," he said.
"But once the first pitch was made, he was spot-on with his thoughts, very clear about what direction he was going in, and that was helping us win a ballgame."
That focus was most meaningful in the top of the eighth inning. Toronto's newest star, Jose Reyes, had just tied the score at 4-4 with a home run off Junichi Tazawa in the bottom of the seventh, after Toronto left-handed reliever Brett Cecil had struck out Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Pedro Ciriaco to strand runners on second and third in the top of the inning.
Now, here was Cecil, striking out the first batter in the eighth, Jacoby Ellsbury, for four punchouts in a row. Due up was switch-hitter Daniel Nava. Farrell elected to send up Jonny Gomes to pinch hit, playing a bullet he could have saved for later, since there was no one on base at the time.
"I wanted to get Cecil out of the game," Farrell said.
"We had talked about it maybe two or three batters before," Lovullo said. "We talked about getting Cecil out of the game and [the Jays] bringing in a righty. It was a key moment."
John Gibbons, who had replaced Farrell and is in his second go-round as Jays manager, bit. He brought in a right-hander, Esmil Rogers, best known to Red Sox fans as the pitcher who fractured the right wrist of Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks when he hit him with a pitch last August, while with the Indians. Rogers had since been traded to the Jays for Mike Aviles, one of Middlebrooks' best buddies on the Sox, after Aviles had been sent to Toronto as compensation for Farrell.
One spin around that circle, and you now had a situation where Farrell was going head to head with Rogers, who in essence was the player the Jays had gotten for their former manager.
If Gibbons had not brought in the righty, the Sox liked the Gomes-Cecil matchup. They liked the Gomes-Rogers matchup even more, because with the lefty out of the game, if Gomes got on base, they wouldn't have a lefty holding the runner on.
"It all lined up in our favor," Lovullo said. "We weren't sure which righty was coming in back of Cecil, but we felt comfortable that if we got Cecil out of the game we'd take our chances."
Gomes did his part and worked a walk. Dustin Pedroia cracked a double to the center-field wall, sending Gomes to third. Mike Napoli hit a smash to third, bringing third baseman Maicer Izturis to his knees, leaving him only with a play at first. Gomes scored the go-ahead run, Middlebrooks homered for an insurance run in the ninth, and the huge smile on Farrell's face afterward told you all you needed to know about what this 6-4 Sox win meant to him.
"I think what he's good at is from separating the emotion of the day from what has to be done," Lovullo said. "He doesn't allow things to really speed him up and make reactive decisions. I think he was really engaged in the game. That's who he is."