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For Hanrahan, Kerrigan was key

3/2/2013 - MLB Joel Hanrahan Boston Red Sox + more
Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan credits former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for helping him rediscover his confidence. Getty Images, AP Photo

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There was no love lost for Joe Kerrigan when his time in Boston came to an inglorious end in the spring of 2002. One of the first acts by new Red Sox ownership was to relieve Kerrigan of his duties as manager, a task for which he appeared spectacularly overmatched after replacing Jimy Williams the previous August.

In one of Kerrigan's first days on the job, Manny Ramirez walked into his office and told him point-blank he wouldn't play for him. In September, an irate Pedro Martinez tore off his jersey at a workout. Kerrigan also had an ugly encounter with Carl Everett, who claimed Kerrigan called him a racial slur. Any good work Kerrigan did as Sox pitching coach from 1997 to 2001 was largely forgotten.

But just when you thought it impossible to find anyone in New England with something positive to say about Kerrigan, along comes Joel Hanrahan. Without Kerrigan, the new Red Sox closer says, he might not be where he is today, a two-time All-Star with 76 saves over the past two seasons.

Kerrigan ranks right up there with Hanrahan's older brother, Mark, and high school coach, Al Lammers, as impact players in his life (and it wouldn't be right not to mention Hanrahan's mother, Pam, who used to strap on the gear and catch her son in the backyard until he was 13 and she announced she'd had enough).

Hanrahan's career was at an ebb when he first encountered Kerrigan in the summer of 2009, right after he had flamed out as the Washington Nationals' closer and had been traded to Pittsburgh, where Kerrigan was pitching coach. Hanrahan strolled into the Pirates' clubhouse carrying his Nationals equipment bag, said hello to a couple of guys, and hadn't even begun to change when Kerrigan appeared at his locker and pulled him into the team's video room.

"He said he'd done his homework,'' Hanrahan said. "He pulled some stats up in his computer and said he'd learned that 95 percent of the fastballs were away to everybody. He said, 'You need to start pitching inside a little more.' Right-handers especially were sitting on everything away: fastball away, breaking ball away. We worked on that.

"Then he made a little mechanical adjustment. He moved my hands to my belt. They had been up and out from my body. I felt more relaxed at the beginning of my delivery, which made everything work better.''

When Hanrahan arrived in Pittsburgh, he had suffered through a first half in which he'd been stripped of the closer's job and had seen his ERA balloon to 7.71. When he had dinner one night with Andy LaRoche and Delmon Young, a couple of friends from his days with the Dodgers (the team that had drafted him but finally let him go as a minor league free agent after he failed to click as a starter), he asked what they saw when they faced him.

"They said, 'You've got no confidence on the mound,''' he said.

Hanrahan didn't argue the point. "I was just hoping to get people out, rather than knowing I could get them out. I had good stuff; I just wasn't getting anyone out. I was terrible.''

Then came the trade to the Pirates, where he met Kerrigan and, yes, Kerrigan's "Pitcher's Pal,'' the same type of mannequin Kerrigan had used when he was in Boston. With Hanrahan's help, the dummy took on his own persona in Pittsburgh.

"We called it 'Oyez,' because I don't think Kerrigan knew everybody's name, so he'd just say 'Oyez,''' Hanrahan said. "So we called the little pitcher's dummy 'Oyez.'''

Oyez (pronounced OY-yay), loosely translated, is Spanish for "hey" or "attention."

"One day in the bullpen we were pretty bored, so we Sharpied 'Oyez' up, drew some cleats on him, put a hat on him,'' Hanrahan said. "Kerrigan went everywhere with that guy.

"Kerrigan, with a lot of people it was up or down if people liked him or not. I was impressed with him. He had some different philosophies and everything, but the time I was with him, I had success. He's good in my book.''

Between the trade, Kerrigan, 'Oyez' and the well-timed advice from his friends, Hanrahan realized he had to change his approach.

"I tricked myself into being cocky again,'' he said. "I just kind of went out and said, 'You know what, the Pirates believe in me when I'm down. Just go out there and try to make this trade look good.' I went out there with the mindset, I've got nothing to lose, it can't get any worse than it is -- now let's try to make the year somewhat respectable.''

Respectable. That 7.71 ERA in the first half was followed by a 1.72 ERA in 33 appearances after the trade. Hanrahan followed that up with a solid season as setup man in 2010, then became Pirates' closer and an All-Star.

All that time playing in the backyard with his big brother, Mark, and working out with his high school coach in Iowa, Lammers, had finally paid off. Mark had pitched in high school well enough to win a scholarship to Iowa State. Joel vowed to try to top his brother. Lammers, who also taught European history in addition to coaching the baseball team, used to get up at 5:30 in the morning and meet Joel at the gym to throw with him before school opened, then continued to catch him in his first couple of years as a pro.

His affection for Hanrahan, however, didn't keep him from giving the pitcher his worst grade in high school.

"I used to sit in class and think, 'What do I have to learn European history for?''' Hanrahan said. "But I felt I had a security blanket [with Lammers]. You want me to play for you this year, or what do you want to do?''

These days, though, Hanrahan feels badly for his old coach.

"He's having a hard time right now,'' he said.

What's wrong? Health?

Hanrahan grins. "He's a die-hard Yankee guy. He's having a tough time with that.

"I can't wait to send him a 'Hanrahan' Red Sox jersey.''