Red Sox' Francona Reflects

Red Sox manager Terry Francona adds levity to the ALCS in his Friday press conference, reflecting on Joe Torre's departure from the Yankees and agreeing with Manny Ramirez that a series loss will not be the end of the world.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona adds levity to the ALCS in his Friday press conference, reflecting on Joe Torre's departure from the Yankees and agreeing with Manny Ramirez that a series loss will not be the end of the world. (Stephan Savoia - AP)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2007

BOSTON, Oct. 19 -- Terry Francona, the manager of the Boston Red Sox, was due in the interview room beneath Fenway Park in a few minutes, but he lingered in his clubhouse office a little while longer Friday afternoon, staring intently at the television as, down the Eastern Seaboard a ways, Joe Torre sat in front of another bank of microphones and another media horde and said goodbye to managing the New York Yankees. Something about it struck a chord within Francona.

There was a line to be drawn here somewhere, connecting Torre's exit to the ongoing American League Championship Series between Francona's Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians. Perhaps Friday -- with a soft rain falling in Boston, and with the ALCS taking a 24-hour pause before Saturday night's Game 6, and with Torre falling victim to unmet (and unrealistic) expectations in the Bronx -- was the proper time to take a step back and find the proper perspective for the games grown men play for the entertainment of others.

"Because of the money that's spent and all the passion that's been . . . " Francona said, then paused. "Things have gotten a little bit skewed around here, and sometimes the big fight for me . . . is not losing sight of what's important, what's meaningful to you.

"I mean, we're sitting at 101 wins [this year], and people don't seem to be very happy, very much of the time. That's a little perplexing, but that's the way it is."

And so it has come to this, with the Red Sox trailing the Indians 3-2 in the best-of-seven series: We must all acknowledge that the great philosopher, Manny Ramirez, was right all along when he said: "If it doesn't happen, so who cares? It's not like the end of the world."

Friday, then, was a day for honest reflection. Somebody's season will end this weekend. The Red Sox' 7-1 win in Cleveland in Game 5 was not even 24 hours old, but the fallout from it was everywhere, and the series was littered with the broken psyches of those who have failed to perform to expectations, and those who fear such failure.

"There's always fear," said Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who will start Game 6, opposing Cleveland's Fausto Carmona. A pending free agent, Schilling could be making his final start for the Red Sox. "I mean, I'm scared to death to go out and fail [Saturday]. I'm terrified of letting my teammates down and the fan base down and the organization down, because they're counting on me to survive.

"I'm scared to death to not do well. But I'm also cognizant of the fact that the fear is something that has always driven me."

Schilling is one of the most accomplished big-game pitchers in baseball, but he is 40 years old, plagued by shoulder injuries this season and admittedly not the pitcher he used to be. However, the last time Schilling faced such a big game with such diminished physical ability, in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, he limped to the mound with blood seeping through his sock and beat the New York Yankees -- part of the Red Sox' historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit.

"I was basically pitching on a broken foot, with a lot less stuff than I have now, and I gave up one run over seven innings," Schilling recalled. "I've done a lot better in a lot worse circumstances [than this], with a lot worse stuff. So [Saturday] is going to be all about execution."

The Indians still feel as if they have the advantage in the series, because not only do they lead by a game, but they also have their co-ace -- the sinkerball specialist Carmona, a 19-game winner this season -- on the mound in Game 6. However, in Game 2, Carmona seemed unsure how to respond when he ran into a lineup that had the plate discipline to lay off his best sinkers -- the ones that darted out of the strike zone. The Red Sox worked him for walks, drove up his pitch count and knocked him out of the game in the fifth inning.

"Whatever happened last time, I've forgotten about it," Carmona said. "It's going to be a new start."

The Red Sox were not much in the mood to look beyond Game 6, but it is clear they would have a dilemma in Game 7, should they make it that far. Daisuke Matsuzaka, whose proper right to the Game 7 start was put in doubt by his poor performance in Game 3 and his very public show of despondency afterward, played catch in the drizzle Friday, each throw chronicled by a pack of Japanese reporters.

"I want the opportunity to pitch," Matsuzaka told the Japanese media, in comments that undoubtedly will be reassuring to the Red Sox. "I want revenge."

Josh Beckett, the Red Sox' indomitable ace and the hero of the Game 5 victory, is already on record as saying he is prepared to pitch in relief in a potential Game 7, on only two days' rest -- a very similar scenario to the one he experienced in the 2003 NLCS while pitching for the Florida Marlins. Still, it's not the middle innings of Game 7 the Red Sox would be worried about -- it's the first few, the part that presumably would belong to Matsuzaka.

"First of all, we're not at Game 7," Francona said, when asked if there is hesitation to start Matsuzaka in Game 7. "I understand the question, but you have to have a legitimate [alternative to Matsuzaka]. I mean, it's not like we're going to go pull somebody off the Dodgers. This is our team."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company