Spirits never flag during a pennant race
TORONTO - Between innings, as his players run out to their defensive positions or get ready to pick up a bat, manager Terry Francona often takes a peek at the out-of-town scoreboard. He does it all season long. It relaxes him. But scoreboard watching takes on added meaning this time of year.
And, yes, Francona knows that, too. It’s definitely different now.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,’’ Francona said. “I mean, I wish we were 40 games over .500, whatever, 50, I wish we hadn’t lost any games this year. But coming to the ballpark this time of year, being nervous, is an unbelievable feeling.
“When I was in Philadelphia, it was my biggest - I was almost jealous. I mean, you get to September and you look at teams that were just beat up. Like on a Sunday day game, and we’re out there trying to tell ourselves we’re going to try to win today and be the spoiler.
“You know what? [Expletive] that. That’s not that much fun. Being in it, where you’ve got guys, you move a guy from second and it’s a big deal, it’s a lot of fun. It’s not always a lot of fun, ’cause when you lose, it crushes you, but that part is, I love that part of that.’’
It’s the time of year when games seem to mean more, though they technically count the same. That’s a far cry, as Francona mentioned, from his days in Philadelphia. Jason Bay understands it, too. It’s a pretty different feeling than he had all those years in Pittsburgh.
“I think I have a different perspective than some people,’’ Bay said. “Because of that, you get into the dog days of summer, a lot of the teams that are out of it, you go up there, it’s easy to maybe take an at-bat or two off, kind of have that day, man I’m just feeling blah.
“That doesn’t really happen here. Every day - even last night, it’s a Tuesday night in Toronto, we have [25,000] fans, it was a great atmosphere. That doesn’t happen with a lot of teams in a lot of situations.
“In April or May, you’re not going to win a championship. You can lose one. But they don’t have the same feel. The three games you play against the Yankees in April are, in theory, just as important as the three games you play in September. But it’s not that way.’’
It’s the part of the season when, as Francona said, “every game seems to mean so much. Nothing wrong with that. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the way you play, there’s nothing wrong with accepting the fact that these games mean a lot to us.’’
There’s no arguing that, especially after a playoff-style series in Texas over the weekend, and with the Sox holding a one-game lead for the wild card.
“One of the announcers in Texas came up to me the other day, Josh Lewin, who’s a good friend of mine, and he said something about we’re excited to be in this position, it’s probably gotten old for you,’’ Francona said. “I said, ‘What, are you crazy? This is why we do this.’
“And I was actually stunned that that was his perception. We don’t ever need to lower ourselves to have it be old hat. When that happens, I’m going to go do something else.’’
“He’s not going to hurt himself by pitching,’’ Francona said, referring to the nerve damage in Wakefield’s back that has traveled to his calf. “I mean, anybody can be hurt any time. But he’s not endangering himself by pitching. He’s not endangering his potential recovery of leg strength by waiting until October if - if - a surgical procedure is needed. And again, these are big ifs. Wake was satisfied and reassured by the call.
“Now, saying that, he’s still got a lot of deficit in that calf. And to have him in a major league game, if he lands on that thing 75, 80 times, or if he goes to cover first, there are some things that can go wrong.
“If we put him in a Triple A game, we feel like it’s still a game, and there’s going to be people trying to beat him, and he has to do some reaction things like he has to do here. If things don’t go well, we can always take him out of a game. And if they do go well, then we can bring him back and have him pitch for us.’’
One major concern is whether other teams would bunt on Wakefield. Francona’s response: “Some guys can’t [bunt]. I do think we’d be crazy to think that somebody is not going to exploit a weakness. That’s part of the deal. Saying that, it’s not as easy as it sounds.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.