Francona finding success in Cleveland

Posted: September 21, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Many questioned his judgment, Terry Francona said.

After one year off following a successful eight-year run as manager in Boston that included two World Series titles, Francona took over as manager of the Cleveland Indians this season.

The job appeared almost as bleak as when he earned his first managerial position with the Phillies in 1997.

"A lot of people were saying, 'What are you doing?' " Francona said Tuesday before his Indians won a crucial 5-3 game against the host Kansas City Royals in a playoff-like atmosphere for two teams contending for a wild-card berth.

"My answer was that they didn't know me as well as they thought because this was the place I wanted to go," Francona said. "And if anything it has been better than I anticipated."

Cleveland?

The Indians, who assured the franchise's first winning season since 2007 with the victory over the Royals, were 68-94 in 2012.

It's almost like a Phillies team that was 67-95 the year before Francona took over in 1997. But that was his first managerial job, and Francona couldn't be picky. The Phillies ended 285-363 in his four years. And while the Indians outlook may not have been as bleak, it also wasn't much better entering this season.

After managing the Phillies, Francona spent 2001 as a special assistant to baseball operations in Cleveland under current president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti.

Those relationships were major factors, Francona said, when Cleveland came calling this offseason.

"If anything this has been more rewarding than I anticipated," Francona said.

How could it not be?

Going into Friday the Indians were 83-70 and a half-game behind Texas and Tampa Bay for the two wild-card spots. Cleveland's final regular-season games are against three teams well below .500 - Houston, the Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota.

Most of all, Francona has enjoyed something that he had for most of his eight seasons in Boston, when the Red Sox earned five postseason berths. That is, the chance to play meaningful baseball in September.

"To show up at the ballpark this time of year, being nervous, I relish that a lot, and it's fun," Francona said.

Francona is given much of the credit for guiding a team with a few tested veterans and many youngsters.

"The best thing about him is that he lets us be ourselves," said centerfielder Michael Bourn, who began his career with the Phillies and was dealt to Houston in the Brad Lidge trade. "The clubhouse is ours, and he doesn't really bug us unless he really needs to speak like a real general does."

Bourn and Nick Swisher signed with Cleveland in the offseason and have brought veteran savvy to the clubhouse.

Swisher had been to the postseason six of the previous seven seasons with three teams - Oakland, the Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees. He has had an up and down season, but he was heating it up with five home runs and 12 RBIs in his first 15 games of September.

"It is so awesome to be part of something like this," Swisher said. "It is kind of rejuvenating this franchise."

Bourn said the Indians could contend in the beginning of the season. Not many others agreed.

"I knew this team was young and had a chance to be good not just this year but for years to come," Bourn said.

Still, the pitching was a major question mark - and still is. The best pitcher has been Justin Masterson (14-10, 3.52 ERA), and he is sidelined with a strained left oblique.

"One thing I stress to these guys is that seasons don't always come around like this, and you aren't going to always be in it," Swisher said.

With that in mind, tickets for playoff games will go on sale in Cleveland on Monday.


Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @sjnard.

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