Coming back to Fenway Park is no longer an emotional experience for former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
“It was at one point,” Francona told reporters in the visitors’ dugout Monday evening. “You know, it’s been a long time now. I’ve almost been in Cleveland as long as I was in Boston. I think it’s more fun to come back here now because as you get distance and get sort of comfortable, you’re able to think about the good.”
Francona — who managed the Red Sox for eight seasons, including their eternally memorable 2004 World Series run — returned to Boston Monday for the first of four games between his AL Central-leading Indians and the AL East-leading Sox. On a night that saw 20 hits — and was perhaps a preview of what’s to come during the postseason — two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber out-pitched 2016 Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello to earn Cleveland the 5-4 victory.
“Every game means the same, but I think some series are more fun for the players to play,” Francona said. “You come here with this atmosphere and with that team, you know you better bring your A game or they’re going to put a hurting on you.”
Calling the matchup “a great test” for his players, Francona had high praise for the 2018 Red Sox, who have been winning at a historic pace. Boston’s league-high 88 wins are the franchise’s most ever through 126 games.
“Everybody sees their talent,” Francona said. “That’s kind of the easy one. But they have brought it every day. To have 88 wins right now, I mean, they come at you. When they hit the ball, it better end up where it’s supposed to. Between their legs [and] their bats, they could run you into a crooked number in a hurry.”
This Red Sox-Indians series, however, offers more than just competitive baseball.
The four games also mark the first time Sox manager Alex Cora is facing off against Francona, who managed him for three and a half seasons in Boston. Francona admitted he hasn’t caught too many games from Cora’s inaugural year at the helm, having watched more from the 42-year-old’s tenure as bench coach of the Houston Astros last season, but he’s nonetheless been impressed with his former player’s managerial showing thus far.
“He lets his guys be aggressive,” Francona said. “They’re scoring more runs [and] taking extra bases. They’re making some outs, but there’s a trade-off. They let the guys that can hit, hit. [Cora] just tries to play to their strengths. That’s what managers are supposed to do.”
Francona said he never thought about the possibility of Cora — or any of his other former players (e.g. Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers; Gabe Kapler, Philadelphia Phillies; Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays) for that matter — becoming a manager. Even so, it’s no surprise to him that Cora has found success in his first year.
“He’s always been a really good baseball guy,” Francona said. “I don’t look at [Boston’s] record — not that I would judge [Cora] anyway — but I think Alex is a good baseball guy, regardless of whether he went to a young expansion team. Because he’s just good. I don’t think it matters what their record is.”
Although Francona doesn’t think the responsibilities of the manager have changed drastically over the past decade or so, he did note the role varies from city to city.
“[In Boston], there’s a lot more media,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s not bad, but I think it’s good for a younger guy to have this job because it takes a lot of energy. I know now when we leave after four days, I’ll be wiped out. I think it’s good somebody younger is doing it.”
As for how long he’ll keep doing what he’s doing?
The 59-year-old, who got his managerial start with the Phillies in 1997, said his passion for the game is still just as strong.
“If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t do it,” Francona said. “I’m not sure how much money I’m making. I probably should, but I don’t know. I love the games. The older I get, the travel’s a little harder. That part I think about sometimes, how long do I want to do it. But I love trying to figure out with our group of guys, how can we be better than the other team? I love that. Like, I never wanted to do anything else, nor do I.”