Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined WEEI's "The Dale and Holley Show" via telephone this afternoon for his weekly conversation. Naturally, Manny Ramirez was a popular topic, but Francona also spoke about the Red Sox' recent formula for winning and the reason Jonathan Papelbon hasn't had his usual pinpoint control.
On the Red Sox' ability to continue to win despite a shorthanded lineup:
Francona: "Well, a couple of things. We've got some huge, clutch hits late in games, and I guess the reason they are clutch is because our bullpen, way more often than not, has given us a chance to win games. We've kept leads, games that have been close [our relievers have] given us a chance, and then guys like Jason Bay, Nick Green, you name it, guys that come up with different hits at different times, and they end up being clutch hits because we've hung around and given us a chance to win."
On Jonathan Papelbon's command. (He's walked nine batters in 15 innings after walking eight batters in 69.1 innings a season ago):
Francona:"It's not an issue, it's a little bit more than he has in the past. I think when you look up at the end of the year, I don't think there are going to be a whole heck of a lot more than they were the year before. At times he's been up in the strike zone, and the thing he hasn't gotten yet is his split. He's bounced his split, and when he's ahead in the count that's good because he'll probably get a swing, but he hasn't gotten that split yet where he can get a strike called, which really makes him nasty. As you see, he's still got that unbelievable fastball, he's getting the strikeouts, he's competing and he's getting all his saves, he's just really having to work hard. When he starts commanding the split and everything falls into sync, you'll see him take off."
On Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension for testing positive for banned substances:
Francona: "You know, even if I did have comments, we're in a position in baseball where we're not allowed to comment, and I understand that. The one thing I guess I'd say in general is I guess I feel more for the game of baseball every time something happens. Every time something happens, I don't know if it's cut and dried. You just don't know. I know a lot of people are out there making comments, and I hear the first thing they say is, 'I really don't know.' So that's kind of bothersome. When facts come out, who knows? Who knows? Maybe it's bad, maybe it was a mistake . . . you know, with my personality, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I also feel bad for the game when something like this happens. It does tarnish the game."
On whether he was surprised by the news:
Francona: "Yeah, I think I always am when things happen. That's why it's not appropriate for me to comment . . . there's always going to be an element of surprise if it's your guys, because the testing is done, and we don't know, unless something comes back positive, we don't know who's been tested, we don't know when . . . we're really not supposed to know, so we're kind of in a tough position with that because we don't know much about it."
On whether Ramirez's situation diminishes anything accomplished by the Sox during his time here, particularly the 2004 and '07 championships:
Francona: "Well, some writer from LA tried to make that point yesterday in my office here in Anaheim, and I shooed him out kind of quickly . . . Whatever happened with Manny, whatever he got into, whatever happened, he tested [positive] this year, in '09. I don't apologize for how we won or the guys we won with. Throughout baseball, there's been some issues, and fortunately for the Red Sox, you haven't seen it, you haven't heard about it, and we're very pleased about that. It's a blemish on baseball that's been out there, and I think they've taken steps now to stop it. I think it took awhile, I think the steps they've taken are good, you know, it was a little while in coming. I also know it's not that easy to do because of the union, because of other things, but I do think what they have in place now is pretty good. The only other thing you can do is blood test, and that's a little bit difficult."