Terry Francona came to Fenway Park at 6:15 this morning, an arrival aimed at beating the traffic created by the BAA half marathon around the park. It worked. He was already halfway through a Full Throttle can at 8:50, when the local writers went into his office.
The Red Sox season will end today if they lose. Francona has managed 11 such games and gone 9-2, but the experience and success has not changed his perspective on them.
“If we lose, we go home,” Francona said. “We knew that then. We know that now.”
Francona approaches today with that simplicity. He won’t address the team or be any different than usual. Jason Bay talked yesterday about Francona is the same loose guy he is in the playoffs as he is during the regular season.
“If I have to go have a meeting today, we’re not in good shape,” Francona said. “We’ve had one meeting all year. Our guys understand what to do. We communicate enough where. If I have to go out there and have a Knute Rockne speech, we’re in trouble.”
Francona does not go out of his way to act normal. It comes natural, hardwired by the season.
“I don’t think we have to try,” Francona said. “We always feel the same. I guess maybe you guys don’t get the point, maybe you do. All year, all the things we talk about, that’s why we do it, so when we get into positions, we don’t have to fake it. In June we say we’re trying to win today’s game. Because it’s impossible to turn switches on and off, so when you get into situations like now, we feel the same way. That’s why we do the things we do.”
When it comes to actually managing the game, there are some changes. He knows, obviously, he can’t let a start linger an extra inning to try to get his feel down.
“We know that we need to win,” Francona said. “But you can’t overdo it, either. You can kind of overdo it yourself into trouble too. We know what’s at stake.”
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In Game 1, Francona pulled Jon Lester after 100 pitches for the distinct purpose of him being more prepared for a possible Game 4 start. The Red Sox were down, 3-0, and with the way John Lackey was dominating, that offered more value than leaving him in.
“Oh, yeah,” Francona said. “Now, if we’d have been winning, we wouldn’t have. We’d have figured out from there. But since we were losing, we were not going to make him throw another 20 pitches for nothing.”
And so, Lester will be able to pitch tomorrow on three days rest. Francona studied the numbers of pitchers who come back on three days rest, and he came to the conclusion that the ones who perform poorly have been thrust into the situation out of desperation when they are acutely tired. Because the Red Sox planned for Lester coming back quick, he is confident Lester can handle it.
More importantly, Francona went to Lester late in the season, showed him his projected schedule, and asked him a key question: Can you handle this?
” ‘Cause if you can’t, it’s kind of silly,” Francona said. “We can do all the thinking we want, but if doesn’t feel right, it’s not going to work. Couple years ago I know everybody was wondering why – remember we pitched [Tim Wakefield], everybody’s like ‘You’ve got to move Beckett up!’ He wasn’t ready. When you talk to a pitcher and they say they’re not ready, then don’t do it. But in this instance, he felt real good about it. So it made sense to us. All along that was kind of the thought process.”