Fran­cona made right moves to sweep Sox

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Tom Withers

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.

ELISE AMENDOLA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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