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Red Sox happy to put collapses of 2011-12 behind

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BOSTON (AP)

The Boston Red Sox are eager to return to Fenway Park and put their worst performance in almost 50 years behind them.

After finishing last in the AL East, the revamped Red Sox will take a 4-2 record into their home opener on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles. Clay Buchholz is scheduled to face Wei-Yi Chen.

''Guys are looking forward to the energy that Fenway and our fans give us,'' John Farrell, the team's third manager in three years, said before Sunday's 13-0 victory over the Blue Jays. ''We've been two months in Florida and another week-plus on the road. All things considered, everyone is looking forward to getting back. It should be an exciting day.''

The Red Sox followed an unprecedented collapse in September 2011 with a 69-win season. Manager Bobby Valentine is out after one season, and several of the high-paid and underperforming players from last year are gone in the trade that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who hit three homers in Sunday's game, said these players want to prove to the fans that they're there to win.

''The disappointment is expected because the pressure to win there is important,'' he said. ''It's important to the fans and it's important to us as well. We want to make up for that and do what we can to change their minds and show them that we're there to win.''

The Red Sox had the AL's best record and a nine-game lead in the wild-card race on Sept. 1, 2011, before going 7-20 in the final month to miss the playoffs by one game. Terry Francona left after admitting he lost control of the beer- and fried chicken-loving clubhouse, replaced by the fiery Bobby Valentine.

But Valentine only made things worse. Instead of snapping into shape, the players rebelled even more and eventually general manager Ben Cherington had to concede the season in a salary dump that will save the ballclub more than $250 million.

In place of the prickly Beckett and his underperforming teammates, the Red Sox return to Fenway led by more likable players such as Middlebrooks, who emerged as the young star of last season, and Jackie Bradley Jr., the outfield prospect who played himself onto this year's roster in spring training.

Cherington has said he spent more time than usual trying to sign players who would create a positive atmosphere in the clubhouse. Fans ''want a team they can root for and get behind,'' he said this offseason.

Sunday's win gave the Red Sox their second straight series win to start the season. Last year, they were 1-5 by the time they got to Fenway.

''I remember the last couple of years here searching, and now we had a good road trip,'' second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. ''It's tough when you dig yourself a hole. It felt like we were trying all year to get out of it. Hopefully we can build on this nice road trip and get it going.''

Bradley said he expects the fans to be supportive, something that wasn't always the case during last year's stumble to the cellar.

''This organization is definitely not known for losing,'' he said. ''Winning is in the forefront of everyone's minds and that's what we want to get back to, winning like we know we can. Everything else will take care of itself. The fans will love it, we'll love it and everything will be all good.''

For Farrell, Monday's opener will be a homecoming. The former Red Sox pitching coach was the Blue Jays manager for the past two seasons before he returned to Boston when Valentine was fired.

Farrell was extensively booed by the Toronto fans when the Red Sox visited this weekend.

The Boston fans are expected to welcome him back.

''Hopefully they do,'' he said with a laugh.

---

AP freelance writer Ian Harrison contributed to this story from Toronto.

Tagged: Red Sox, Dodgers

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