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He's managing to remain calm

Francona takes streak in stride

CLEVELAND -- So how did the new Red Sox manager handle the strain of his first five-game losing streak?

Did he lock himself in his office, leave a dent in the dugout water cooler, snap at his players and coaches, grow short with the writers?

You knew better, didn't you?

Yesterday afternoon, before David Ortiz boomed two home runs and Bill Mueller hit one and the bullpen was back to being perfect and Bronson Arroyo got his first win in a Sox uniform in a 9-5 defeat of the Indians, Terry Francona was talking about Christmas cards.

Well, actually he was talking about the lost art of sliding, when someone mentioned that Nomar Garciaparra, for one, still knew how to execute a textbook hook slide.

"What doesn't Nomar do right?" Francona said. "I'll never forget when I had Nomar in the Arizona Fall League in 1994, he was just a kid [Garciaparra was 21, with 28 games of pro experience]. The last day of the season was Dec. 3, and Nomar walked into the clubhouse with Christmas cards, which he'd written out by hand, for everyone on the team. I thought to myself then, how many kids would ever think to do that?"

Francona was standing on the top step of the dugout in Jacobs Field as he told the story, watching the Indians take batting practice. Frank Viola, the former Sox pitcher in his first month as an ESPN broadcaster, walked by and said hello.

"He faced us in the College World Series for St. John's and beat us, the year we won it," said Francona, who played at the University of Arizona and was named the Series MVP. "They had Johnny Franco, too, but he was hurt, so after Viola pitched, they were done."

From behind second base, Buddy Bell, the Indians coach, hollered something at Francona. The two had been teammates in Cincinnati in 1987, and Francona had served as Bell's third base coach when Bell managed the Tigers in 1996. "We were like brothers, but fighting brothers," Francona said. "Buddy had a drill called `27 outs,' where you had to get 27 outs without making a single mental or physical mistake. It's impossible, but a great drill, one in which you have to really be organized.

"You got the pitchers over here, and Buddy is screaming out situations, and he's growing hoarse, and half the players can't hear him, and I'm coaching the outfielders and the base runners, and the whole thing just turns into a [mess]. He starts screaming at me, and finally I scream back at him, and the players, they're just laughing at us."

Would you have felt better if Francona had been sitting alone on the bench, deep in thought, instead of talking about how his son, Nick, is a pretty good ballplayer with a chance to go to an Ivy League school, and how his daughter, Alyssa, is a wonderful student who probably will be able to name her college, and how his dad, Tito Francona, who lives just a couple of hours away, might come to the series finale but hadn't been here yet because the cold bothered his knees, which were all but shot.

Tim Laker, the veteran Indians catcher, stopped to say hello to Francona and rib Dale Sveum, the Sox third base coach whom he had once played with. Laker asked Sveum how many runners he'd had thrown out at the plate in Fenway Park this season. Sveum shook his head. "My philosophy is, `When in doubt, hold 'em,' " Sveum shot back.

Team meetings? Francona doesn't believe in meetings, especially with a veteran team like this one. "We might have one or two a year," he said, "but a lot of times a team meeting is mostly for the benefit of the manager, to give him a chance to vent."

Francona's style is to circulate through the clubhouse or on the field, get a guy or two alone, like he did with Keith Foulke, chatting with him in the trainer's room about how his back was doing and whether he felt he could pitch last night (Foulke worked an inning). After the Sox had lost their fifth in a row, one observer said Francona worked the room, telling guys to stay positive.

"It was good for us to win," he said in his office after the game. "A much-needed win."

He smiled, but it was the smile of a man who knew this thing was going to turn around sooner rather than later. Curt Schilling, who played for Francona when he managed the Phillies, said Francona was no different in Philadelphia. Stressed out?

"He'll leave that up to you guys and the fans," Schilling said. "There's enough of that already, that's the last thing you want from your manager. He'll have his moments, but not many. These kinds of things, riding an emotional roller coaster roller-coaster, they often start at the top. But he stays cool."

Just like Schilling, right? The pitcher, who tends to forget to sleep after losing a start, laughed. "It's a matter of personality," he said. "That's why I'll never be a manager."

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