Francona made right moves to sweep Sox
CLEVELAND >> Drenched after his players joyfully doused him with champagne and beer, Indians manager Terry Francona stood at the center of the visitor’s clubhouse in Fenway Park, a ballpark where he had been in the middle of so many similar celebrations.
Francona didn’t get a hit, steal a base or record an out as Cleveland surprisingly swept Boston in the AL Division Series.
He did just about everything else.
As he removed his glasses to wipe the sudsy shower from his face, Francona could finally relax — for a night. His moves pushed the Indians deeper into October.
The bubble gum-chomping, drought-busting motivator is Cleveland’s MVP.
Whether masterfully maneuvering his bullpen in Game 1, playing a hunch with his lineup in Game 2, using platoon players or daring to pitch to slugger David Ortiz in Game 3 as Boston fans roared, Francona had the perfect touch as the Indians won three straight and advanced to face Toronto in the AL Championship Series.
Francona, affectionately known as Tito — his dad’s name — refused to take credit and turned the attention on his players.
“I’ve done it before,” said Francona, who led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and ‘07. “You know what, what it meant to me is to celebrate with the Indians and our crew. I don’t care where it is. I respect that we beat a heck of a team, but to celebrate with our guys, that’s what was meaningful for me.”
The Indians have been defying odds — and baseball logic — for months. Despite a slew of injuries to key players, losing two starting pitchers for the postseason, and being given little chance to win the AL Central, they overpowered Detroit and Kansas City before dismissing the Red Sox, who led the majors in scoring but managed just seven runs in the playoffs.
The obstacles have only empowered the Indians. Francona made sure they were never knocked off track. He did more than manage games, massaging egos and making everyone believe.
“It’s extraordinary,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said. “He’s a master at it. He really understands people. He builds relationships. He creates connections. He communicates extraordinarily well. He has the right balance of providing a professional and prepared group, but also having fun. If there is anybody better, I’m not sure I’ve been around him.”
His rotation close to shambles, Francona understood the importance of winning the opener against Boston.
After Trevor Bauer, who began the season in the bullpen, got him into the fifth inning, Francona brought in tall left-hander Andrew Miller — normally used in the seventh and eighth — and Cleveland’s relievers closed out the 5-4 win.
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, takes the ball from Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin during the sixth inning in Game 3 of baseball’s American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, Monday in Boston.