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Francona gets his wish
10/28/2004 2:55 AM ET
ST. LOUIS -- A couple of hours before they played the game, the game in the last 86 years of Red Sox baseball, manager Terry Francona was asked if he was interested in any keepsakes once the epic victory was complete.

He thought it out for a second or two, and didn't come up with any tangible memorabilia requests. Instead, Francona focused on something he knew would be a memory that would never leave him.

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"The thing I would cherish the most would just be watching them jump on each other," said Francona. "Just watching the guys celebrate."

Twenty-seven outs later, that simple request was granted via a 3-0 victory in Game 4 of the World Series against the Cardinals. The Red Sox were World Series champions for the first time since 1918.

As for Francona, he instantly became an answer to a trivia question.

Who are the three managers to guide the Red Sox to world championship in year No. 1 at the helm? The answers are Jake Stahl (1912), Ed Barrow (1918) and Francona (2004).

Not that Francona would take much stock in that fact. He has been about everyone but himself since Spring Training started in the middle of February.

He has lived his whole life in the game of baseball, cheering on his father, Tito, the former Major Leaguer. Then Francona pursued his own dreams, first as a superstar at the University of Arizona and then an unspectacular career (1981-90) in the Major Leagues. Francona wound up pursuing managing, eventually leading him to four losing years (1997-2000) in Philadelphia.

Managing the Red Sox is a job few people envy because of all the scrutiny. Francona handled it with class, riding out his team's midseason mediocrity and steering them back on track.

Wednesday night in St. Louis, he reached the highlight of his baseball life. Nobody was happier for him than his players.

"He's a team manager, he loves the players, he let them play," said Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera. "That's what you want from the manager, someone who just lets you play the way you want to play."

Red Sox owner John W. Henry was proud of the way Francona handled his first year on the job.

"He's been consistently underrated as a manager since he took over the club," Henry said. "He's consistently stood up to his players, things that aren't known. The 100 decisions you make during the game, he's done a tremendous job with those. The manager doesn't get a lot of credit for the things he does right. But, boy, if he makes a decision you disagree with and it goes wrong, we all remember those things."

It's hard to remember now that the Red Sox played .500 baseball from May 1-July 31. Some managers could have lost a team at that juncture by pointing fingers or benching some struggling players. But Francona stuck with Kevin Millar, he stuck with Derek Lowe (who was brilliant in Game 4 of the World Series) and everyone else who was performing below expectations earlier in the year.

Then came the trade for Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, and the subsequent addition of Dave Roberts, and suddenly Francona had a team that was championship ready.

The end result was that the Red Sox were the last team standing.

"We made it to the World Series and won," said closer Keith Foulke. "Yeah, he kept us going in the right direction. He kept us going when we weren't playing well. What else is there to say?"

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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