Memory lane: Francona faces past as Indians meet Red Sox
CLEVELAND (AP) — When Terry Francona looks across the diamond at Boston’s dugout, the Indians manager will have emotions to suppress. It won’t be easy.
He’s got friends over there — one of his closest in manager John Farrell — and strong personal attachments with players like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Under normal circumstances, Francona would be wishing them the best.
Not now. This October, the Red Sox are in his way.
Francona, who guided Boston to a pair of World Series titles and exorcised the Curse of The Bambino before leaving in turmoil in 2011, will face his former team in the postseason for the first time when the Indians meet the Red Sox in the American League Division Series starting Thursday night.
There are deep connections between the two franchises meeting for the fifth time in the playoffs since 1995. None, though, are stronger than those for Francona, who is doing all he can to keep the attention directed at the field and the AL East and AL Central champions.
“I don’t think I’d want to ignore it,” he said Wednesday of his ties to the Red Sox. “There’s a lot of history there, a lot of people I really care about. But I’ve been here four years. It’s not a bad thing when you move on. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.”
Cleveland is back in the postseason for the second time in four years and had one more victory than Boston this season while running away with its division. Still, Francona understands the Indians are heavy underdogs in the best-of-five series.
“I think the way we’ve played this year, we’re a worthy opponent and we’ll hold our own,” he said. “We just need to win one more game than our opponent. We’ll see if we’re good enough.”
Befitting a season in which they’ve withstood adversity and key injuries, the Indians will start Trevor Bauer in Game 1 against Rick Porcello, Boston’s 22-game winner.
Bauer began the season in Cleveland’s bullpen, but because of injuries to Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Game 2 starter Corey Kluber, the enigmatic right-hander — who acknowledged he “can be difficult to deal with sometimes” — has jumped to the front of the rotation.
Francona said Bauer’s relationship with the Indians is still “evolving” but he has complete confidence in handing the 25-year-old the ball in the season’s biggest game.
“I don’t think anybody has any trepidation about letting Trevor pitch Game 1,” Francona said. “I think he’s been waiting for this his whole life. And we also think he can bounce back and pitch on short rest and do just fine.”
The Red Sox and Indians ended last season playing each other in Cleveland and they began this season together on April 4, when the opener at Progressive Field was postponed by snow. Now, here they are again with much higher stakes.
Like Francona, Farrell is doing all he can to keep the focus on the players, a skill he learned from his longtime friend.
“The one thing that he always spoke of is to be true to yourself,” Farrell said when asked how Francona made him a better manager. “If you’ve done your work, if you’ve prepared to the point of decisions that are to be made, and making those decisions, if you’re true to that process, true to yourself, you can live with the scrutiny, the criticism or balance it with times that are successful.”
And the tough ones, too.
When Farrell was battling cancer last year, Francona accompanied him to his first chemotherapy session. The men share a special bond, one forged by baseball and strengthened by shared experiences.
At this time a year ago, Farrell wasn’t sure how many Octobers he had left and it’s why he’s savoring this one. His illness taught him perspective and grace.
“I relish every moment of every day,” he said.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Francona’s 82-year-old father, Tito, who played outfield for the Indians from 1959-64, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1.
“I’m going to walk him out to the mound, or he’ll walk me out,” Francona said, “and he’s going to throw the pitch to (Cleveland bench coach) Brad Mills who is as close to family as you can get. So it will be a very special moment.”
ROAD WARRIORS: Boston was baseball’s best road team after the All-Star break, going 27-17 and finishing an AL-best 46-35 away from Fenway Park.
“It felt like we were on the road for two months straight,” Porcello said.
NAPOLI’S PARTY: Indians slugger Mike Napoli, whose “Party At Napoli’s” T-shirts have become fashion musts in Cleveland, had a career season in his first year with the Indians. He hit 34 homers — many of them tape-measure shots — with 101 RBIs. He also provided leadership in Cleveland’s clubhouse and lineup.
Farrell, who managed him for two seasons, isn’t surprised by Napoli’s breakout.
“A smart baseball player,” Farrell said. “He was probably one of our best baserunners, despite the foot speed, when he was with us in Boston. He’s become a damn good first baseman defensively. But his overall presence, it’s the same guy every day. There was a calming influence with us. He sees the most pitches of anybody in baseball. That’s going to have an effect on the guys around him in the lineup.”