Tito Tops (Part Two)

Editor's Note: The special championship commemorative issue of Diehard has just been released. The following piece on Terry Francona appears in the magazine. We hope you enjoy this free preview of our content and that you subscribe to Diehard by clicking on the links at the end of the story! (Part two of two)

The comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS began in Game Three, when Francona turned to scheduled Game Four starter Tim Wakefield and had him absorb 3 1/3 ugly innings in a 19-8 thrashing in order to preserve the rest of the bullpen. The trio of Keith Foulke, Alan Embree and Mike Timlin combined to throw 12 innings over the final four Sox wins.

"If we tried to keep it within one touchdown, it would have saved some embarrassment that night," Francona said. "But it wasn't the right thing for us to win."

And it was Mark Bellhorn—whom Francona didn't bench even after he went 2-for-25 in his first seven playoff games—who delivered pivotal homers in Games Six and Seven of the ALCS and Game One of the World Series.

Francona's approach was rewarded again in this year's playoffs. During the regular season. Francona limited Jonathan Papelbon largely to one-inning stints. The Sox also shut down Hideki Okajima for nearly two weeks in September and exercised caution with Manny Ramirez (oblique) and Kevin Youkilis (wrist) as they battled injuries over the final month.

Francona's caution paid off when he was able to use Papelbon for four outs or more six times in seven playoff appearances after using him in such fashion four times in 59 regular season outings. Okajima threw 7 1/3 shutout innings in the AL playoffs before he tired a bit in the World Series while Ramirez and Youkilis combined to hit .369 (35-for-95) in the playoffs.

"We play a season here where everybody dissects—starting with [the media]—every game as if it's a football game, pitch by pitch, inning by inning, move by move," Curt Schilling said. "And everybody wants him to manage every game of the season like it's a playoff game and he understands he can't. He understands his players, he understands his people and he understands the long-term implications of all that. He never wavers from who he is."

Francona proved his patience is not limitless by benching Coco Crisp for Jacoby Ellsbury prior to Game Six of the ALCS, but Ellsbury made his manager look prescient by hitting .375 over the final six playoff games and enjoying a brilliant World Series. And Francona displayed an uncanny touch by putting Crisp in for defensive purposes in the ninth inning of Game Seven of the ALCS. Crisp, of course, made the clinching catch as he crashed into the triangle to retrieve a fly ball off the bat of Casey Blake.

The ALCS comeback began when Josh Beckett—the public's overwhelming choice to start Game Four on three days rest—instead took the mound in Game Five and tossed eight sterling innings. Dustin Pedroia, who had just five hits in his first 29 playoff at-bats, had 12 hits in his final 31 at-bats. He delivered five RBI in Game Seven of the ALCS and hit a leadoff homer in Game One of the World Series.

And with the Sox trailing the Indians three games to one in the ALCS, Francona showed up to an off-day workout in Cleveland Oct. 17 and talked fantasy football with players. "It was just another day," Alex Cora said. "He's talking about trades in the fantasy league. He doesn't want to talk about the game. That's great for us."

The ever-present bottle of Metamucil on his desk makes it clear Francona spends just about every waking moment thinking about the Sox. Such thoughts are more consuming now than they were in 2004, when Francona admits he was blissfully unaware of just how passionately Boston followed the Sox.

"I actually think in '04, I was oblivious to a lot of the surroundings, and I think it made my job easier," Francona said. "I started feeling the responsibility of every game a lot more because I understood more what it meant to people around here. I think it made it tougher."

That was apparent during the regular season, when Francona was edgier and less forthcoming than he was during his first three campaigns. But he seemed more relaxed during the playoffs, as if he was at peace with the knowledge that a short playoff series would not validate or invalidate what he and the Sox accomplished in successfully carrying out an organizational plan throughout a challenging regular season.

"Really, truly, to me, what I enjoy is the journey," Francona said prior to the "Rolling Rally" Oct. 30. "I think I'm glad that that part has sunk in. [He didn't] have to wait until the last out to think this was special. What happened along the way was pretty special for me."

And as for how much credit Francona does—or does not—receive for the Sox' success and whether or not he's viewed as luminously as a Torre or a Scioscia? "I think if you put the players and the organization first, your personal things take care of themselves," Francona said prior to "Rolling Rally II" Oct. 30. "I believe that. Look, I'm standing here today, we've won two World Series. That's good enough. I don't ever think I feel the need to talk about myself.

"I don't think there's any room in this job for my ego to show through. It doesn't work."

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE

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