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Park benches, different views

Francona knows Wrigley, Fenway

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 20, 2011

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Even though he spent one season playing for the Cubs, in 1986, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was reluctant to look ahead to the Cubs’ historic visit to Fenway Park this weekend.

Francona was more focused on last night’s game, a 4-3 win over the Tigers and their ace, Justin Verlander.

But he relented when pressed about the Cubs’ first visit to Fenway since the Sox won the clinching Game 6 of the 1918 World Series, Francona said, “I think this is a great series for the fans. I think it’s going to be a big ticket.

“I think from where we look at it, it’s an opportunity to win a game. We got a team coming in that we’d like to beat.’’

Asked about his time with the Cubs, Francona chuckled. “It wasn’t very good,’’ he recalled. “I always seemed to hit when it was a quarter to six [in the evening], about the eighth inning, and there were always shadows [at Wrigley Field].

“I lived north of the city, so I fought traffic in and fought the traffic home, and I didn’t get very many hits.’’

What Francona did treasure was playing at Wrigley.

“It’s a cool ballpark,’’ he said. “I think back then it seemed like the worse we played, the more lovable the Cubs [became]. I’m not sure that feeling is still quite there as much, because I think they’re looking to win.

“You had Harry Caray there, and that was enough. People enjoyed going to games and sitting in the bleachers and that was enough. I don’t know if it is anymore.’’

As for his preference, Fenway or Wrigley, Francona said, “I always liked Fenway a little bit better. The dugouts at Wrigley make it really hard to watch a game. You’re really stuck in there. I love Wrigley, because I think all the new ballparks are trying to get the feeling of Fenway and Wrigley, just with the new amenities, but I’ve always liked Fenway better.’’

Okajima let loose The Sox made several moves to shore up their pitching after the game, acquiring lefthanded reliever Franklin Morales from Colorado for a player to be named or cash considerations. To make room, the Sox designated lefthander Hideki Okajima for assignment.

“I started the season down in the minor leagues, so I know I had to regain the team’s confidence in my pitching,’’ said Okajima, 35, who went 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA with six strikeouts in seven games with the Sox this season. “It is my first time in this situation, so I’m not sure of what happens next.’’

On second thought While Daisuke Matsuzaka expressed concern about the sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Francona indicated the righthander had not yet sought a second opinion after being placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.

“Certainly has that right,’’ Francona said. “We’ll see when, if, where. That’s something that’s certainly open to a player and we actually — I don’t know if ‘recommend’ is the right word — but we agree that we want a player to feel confident in what’s going on, moving forward. We will help him with that, if that’s what he wants to do.’’

Matsuzaka underwent an MRI after experiencing tightness in his elbow following a 4 1/3-inning effort in Monday night’s 8-7 win over the Orioles.

Locating reason Jonathan Papelbon, who recorded his eighth save Wednesday night and got the win last night by pitching a scoreless ninth inning, said one reason for his success has been “my fastball has life at the plate.’’ Papelbon struck out two and walked one in the ninth and has 25 Ks and three walks this year. “My fastball has life at the plate and, for me, that’s a big key,’’ Papelbon said afterward . . . Kevin Youkilis, who ignited the winning rally by drawing a leadoff walk, went 1 for 3 to extend his hitting streak to a season-high seven games. He is batting .346 (9 for 26) over that stretch . . . J.D. Drew drove in Boston’s first two runs with a sacrifice fly in the second and a solo homer off Verlander in the fourth. It was his third homer of the season and 200th of his career against a righthander . . . David Ortiz went 3 for 4 to record his 13th multihit game, and fourth three-hit game of the season . . . Andy Dirks’s RBI single in the second inning last night snapped Josh Beckett’s streak of 19 1/3 scoreless innings.

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed; Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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