A conversation with Terry Francona, part two

In Part II of his conversation with new Indians manager Terry Francona, Pat McManamon talks with Francona about the 2007 playoffs, when Francona’s Red Sox beat the Indians in Cleveland’s last playoff season. The two also talk about the difference between managing in a big-money market like Boston, and a town like Cleveland — and Francona’s attitude to differences in payroll.

Q: Going back to the American League Championship Series in 2007 against the Indians, down 3-1. You really don’t change?

A: Try not to. We were down 2-1 and everybody wanted us to skip (Tim) Wakefield and pitch (Josh) Beckett. I tried to remind people that our goal wasn’t to win the next game, our goal was to win the Series. I had gone to Beckett and I had asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ He said, ‘I’m OK.’ I’ll pitch early if you want me to, but I won’t be … I was like, that answers that. We were trying to win four games, not two. Our goal wasn’t to prolong the series, our goal was to win the series. I thought by being patient and keeping guys right in order would put us in the best position to succeed. Thankfully we won.

Q: It wound up being key that Beckett pitched Game 5.

A: Exactly. You try to do what you think is right. Then regardless of the outcome, answer the questions and move on.

Q: When you’re down 3-1, 3-0, you don’t start …

A: No. Players may not go to Ivy League schools, but they’re smart. They see when you’re not being yourself. I try to do what’s right, and try to do that all the time.

Q: That was clearly the closest the Indians have been in a long time. Do you look and think, ‘we’re in trouble here.’

A: I don’t know that I’ve ever — even when we were down 3-0 to the Yankees I don’t remember walking around thinking we were in trouble. During the season is not the best time to be completely realistic. I think it was kind of obvious, if we made a mistake we were going home. A couple years later we ended up losing to the Angels in the first round of the playoffs. We were down 2-0, and we had (closer Jonathan) Papelbon in the game and we were winning. I remember thinking, we’re going to win this. He ended up coughing up the lead and we lost. We didn’t win, but I remember the whole time thinking we’re going to win.

Q: Is that a conscious thing on your part, you don’t want to let negativity in?

A: No, I think that’s just how you feel. You’re not always sure how, but I felt that way was when I was with the Phillies, and we didn’t win that much. I never ever remember going into a game thinking, ‘Boy we’re not going to win.’ It’s just how you feel.

Q: Even if you know …

A: That you’re outmanned a little bit? It doesn’t matter. We’re supposed to win. That’s our goal. And I don’t care about the rest. You don’t think about that when you’re playing the game. You might think about it later or when the season’s over. Like I said, during the season is not the best time to be completely realistic. If you’re outmanned, OK, so what, figure out a way to win. When the season’s over then you go back and figure out why.

Q: Anything else you remember from ‘07?

A: J.D. (Drew) hitting that grand slam off (Fausto) Carmona (in game six). Because we were getting ready to let him off the hook. We had the bases loaded, nobody out. We made a couple quick outs, but J.D. hit grand slam and that broke the game open. We were getting ready to give them a second life, which we didn’t need to do.

Q: That had been a long time since he had hit a home run.

A: That was huge.

Q: Caught you by surprise?

A: Oh, it was huge.

Q: And about the third-base decision by (Indians coach Joel) Skinner to hold Kenny Lofton …

A: Being a third-base coach in Boston is tough. Because there’s nooks and crannies and there’s a blind spot. We talked to our players about this all the time, because the third base coach is at a disadvantage and sometimes you have to throw your hands up too early. If you’re a baserunner and you keep your head up you can be your own coach and eliminate some of those mistakes. Now, that wasn’t their home field. We were used to playing there all the time so that’s why we had the advantage.

Q: There is a clear perception in this city — and I don’t know if it’s accurate or inaccurate, generated by media or not — that with the disparity in payrolls a small-market team has much longer odds to win a championship.

A: OK. Could be. That’s probably stating the obvious. You can’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you can’t win. Tampa’s been doing it. Oakland. There’s teams that have done it correctly and competed. Tampa Bay has gone toe-to-toe with Boston and New York for the past several years, and they’ve been right there with they. They have a very, very small payroll. They’ve made very good decisions.

Q: Is it harder to win?

A: I would say it probably is. You just can’t make as many mistakes. You can’t cover mistakes. So … let’s not make them.

Q: You weren’t here, but there were a couple years in a row that this team traded Cy Young winners.

A: Right. And who you get back … I think some of the stuff gets lost in the shuffle. You look at some of the players they’ve acquired — and they’ve acquired some really good players. Not every trade is going to be perfect. That’s what fans seem to remember.

Q: Is it easy to blame money, from a fan’s point of view?

A: Probably. But being a fan, that’s fun. You’re supposed to care about your team as a fan. Part of that is grumbling at things that don’t go right. I understand that.

Q: You’re good with that?

A: Yeah, that’s part of being a fan. If I’m too thin-skinned then they got the wrong guy.

Q: Where did you learn not to be thin-skinned? Some guys are.

A: My first job was in Philadelphia, so that would help. But I grew up in a clubhouse and I understand it. I get it. I’ve been a U of A (University of Arizona) season ticket holder for basketball for the last 20 years, and I’ve screamed at Lute Olsen. He’s the best coach in the country. I’m a fan, man. That’s the way it is.

Tomorrow: Part three of our conversation with Terry Francona.
To read Pat McManamon’s profile of Terry Francona, go here to the Cleveland Magazine web site.