0

Loyal Francona has Sox in Series for second time

BOSTON - Dustin Pedroia connected, and the Fenway Park crowd went crazy. Fans hollered, teammates hugged the rookie and the Game 7 rout was on.

The Red Sox were on their way to beating Cleveland, and heading to the World Series.

A few feet away from the dugout celebration, Boston manager Terry Francona sat back down, folded his arms and crouched forward, ready to watch the next at-bat from his seat on the bench.

'It's like a lot of people say about Joe Torre,' Boston hitting coach Dave Magadan said. 'The guy's expression never changes. Tito's the same way, and it resonates in this clubhouse.

'Guys see that and they know, 'Hey, our manager isn't panicking. He believes in us,' he said.

Francona's demeanor didn't change as the Red Sox rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the AL championship series. Maybe that's because he's been in worse spots.

He was never a winner in four losing seasons as manager in Philadelphia, where he was vilified by Phillies fanatics. He wasn't given much chance, either, when the Red Sox fell into a 3-0 hole in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees.

That was Francona's first year managing the Red Sox. He led them all the way back to the club's first World Series championship in 86 years.

He clearly was the right man for the job and ready for the onslaught from demanding fans and swarming media members that had unnerved many of his predecessors.

'Think about it for a second,' he said the day he was hired, three weeks before Christmas in 2003. 'I've been released from six teams. I've been fired as a manager. I've got no hair. I've got a nose that's three sizes too big for my face, and I grew up in a major league clubhouse.'

He came to Boston backed by a strong recommendation from Curt Schilling, whom he managed in Philadelphia. Michael Jordan's name also was on his resume, having managed the NBA star in his one-year stint in the minors.

His willingness to work with a young baseball operations team, headed by general manager Theo Epstein, was a strength.

'We have a great working relationship,' Francona said before Thursday night's second game of the World Series against Colorado.

'We have the ability to argue, to disagree, to move on the next day, and that's important, because you get into these positions, you have to have a strong opinion or you don't survive,' he said.

He always believes he's doing the right thing, even if it doesn't work out.

'His preparation clearly speaks for itself,' pitching coach John Farrell said. 'There's not been a game situation this year that has really ever caught him or us by surprise.'

Francona certainly knew his way around ballparks.

His father, outfielder Tito Francona, was a longtime big leaguer who never played in a World Series. And he missed out on the AL batting title in 1959 when he hit .363 but had too few at-bats to qualify.

Terry Francona retains his self-deprecating wit and brushes off critics when things aren't going well. He occasionally will turn sarcastic when asked questions he considers uninformed.

Francona is signed through next year. The Red Sox are expected to extend his contract after the season.

'We haven't been shy about our desire to keep him for a long time,' Epstein said.