10/21/2004 2:06 AM ET
Down 3-0, Francona kept it together
Red Sox skipper made tough choices, right moves
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
|Manager Terry Francona (right) celebrates with closer Keith Foulke in the Red Sox clubhouse after Game 7. (Charles Krupa/AP)
NEW YORK -- When Curt Schilling came out of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series after only three innings because of a right ankle problem, he made Terry Francona's job a lot harder.
For the manager of the Boston Red Sox, one of the most scrutinized positions in all of sports, that's a task in itself.
So for the next six games, Francona not only responded to questions about his injured ace, the next game's starter, or his depleted bullpen, he likely also wondered to himself how he could resurrect a team trailing three games to none against the mighty Yankees in a marathon race disguised as a baseball playoff series.
But the savvy skipper responded by using role players like Dave Roberts and Doug Mientkiewicz, along with every bench player and every reliever he had, almost pitch-perfectly. Through it all, the first-year Red Sox manager didn't fret. And the rest is history, literally. The Red Sox overcame their 3-0 deficit in the ALCS -- the first team in MLB history to do so -- and are on their way to their first World Series appearance since 1986, after Wednesday's 10-3 victory in Game 7.
Francona, too modest to admit it, is one of the main reasons why.
"I think to do what we did, you have to have a lot of people chip in and do some special things," Francona said. "Think back four days ago when Dave Roberts stole second base in the ninth inning. That may get lost in the shuffle, but not in the clubhouse and not by me."
With Schilling shelved early, Francona didn't panic. He used six relievers in Game 1 but needed only three in Game 2, behind Pedro Martinez. He used five in Game 3, a 19-8 blowout to the Yankees.
But despite the rout, Francona stayed unflappable. Unfortunately for the Red Sox Nation, it seemed neither time nor history was on their side.
But in Game 4, David Ortiz hit a two-run home run in the 12th inning to lead the Red Sox to a 6-4 victory in a game that lasted five hours and two minutes.
A fearless Francona used five relievers in that game, all after a solid start by Derek Lowe, who filled in when Francona chose to use Tim Wakefield in relief in the blowout Game 3.
It was a shrewd move that paid off when Wakefield pitched three innings of relief in Game 5 to earn the win in a contest that lasted an even longer five hours and 49 minutes. Ortiz won the game again, this time in the 14th inning.
|The Red Sox are the first team in Major League Baseball history to rally from a three-games-to-none deficit and win a seven-game postseason series. It's been done twice in NHL history, never in the NBA:|
|1942 Stanley Cup finals
||Toronto def. Detroit
|1975 NHL second round
||NY Islanders def. Pittsburgh
||Boston def. NY Yankees
To get there, Francona again played his cards right, using six relievers. As if that weren't enough, he also inserted Roberts as a pinch-runner late in Games 4 and Game 5. The speedy Roberts scored the game-tying runs both times.
"The way our bullpen (pitched). They went out there and pitched innings and some of those guys had no business being out there," Francona said. "They found ways not only to get out there, but to get people out. Because when we are down 0-3, there is just no room for error and we didn't make any errors."
As for Boston's 4-2 win in Game 6? That was an easy one considering the time standard set by the two previous games. It ended up being a nine-inning game played in three hours and 50 minutes, in large part because Schilling responded with seven strong innings, allowing Francona to rely on only two relievers.
A player's manager, Francona's faith in struggling hitters Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn never wavered and his patience paid off. The second baseman Bellhorn rewarded his manager's confidence with a three-run home run to become one of the heroes of Game 6. And Damon hit two home runs in Game 7, including a grand slam, providing all the offense the Sox would need.
The bullpen was not Francona's only challenge. With fatigue certainly a factor that Francona had to consider throughout the series, a game less than four hours felt like a blessing. The club had played for a total of 15 hours and 11 minutes combined for Games 3, 4, and 5.
In the end, for seven memorable games, the manager found a way to pull his team together no matter the circumstances. He has the 2004 American League pennant to prove it.
"This is not the time to single people out," he said after the Red Sox clinched the pennant. "We won this as a ballclub, we'll celebrate as a ballclub and we'll move on as a ballclub."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.