07/13/05 12:47 AM ET
Francona played to win
Home-field advantage in World Series was big incentive
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
So when the game was coming down to its final moments, Francona knew his best option was to call on a man he will be rooting against for the first four games following the All-Star break.
Even though he Francona joked before the game that Yankees manager Joe Torre wouldn't mind if Mariano Rivera pitched five of six innings in Tuesday's Midsummer Classic, he wound up asking the elite closer for just one precious out, the 27th of the night. The American League's lead had been whittled down to two runs by the time Rivera emerged from the bullpen.
"I turned to Johnny Damon," said Francona. "I heard Johnny say something like, 'Come on, Mo,' and I looked at him and said, 'I bet I never would have heard you say that.' It was OK. You know what -- for one night, it was pretty cool."
Especially when Rivera closed out the 7-5 victory for the AL by striking out Morgan Ensberg.
Francona hopes that the win will benefit the Red Sox come October, as it secured home-field advantage for the American League in the World Series. That is one reason he took his position as manager of this game so seriously and hardly viewed it as an exhibition.
"Out of respect to the game, if you're in our position as a coach or manager, you need to bear down and do it right," said Francona. "So we've tried to do that."
The pitching plan that Francona and his staff devised in the pre-game hours worked perfectly, as starting pitcher Mark Buehrle worked two clean innings, and the other starters (Bartolo Colon, Johan Santana, Matt Clement, Jon Garland and Kenny Rogers) each went an inning, handing it over to the bullpen with a 7-2 lead.
"We were pleased to get two innings [from Buehrle]," Francona said. "I think he threw 117 pitches the other day. We wanted to make sure everybody left in the same shape they came in."
If any of the starting pitchers had faltered, Francona would have gone to Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez in the early innings to get out of a jam. Fortunately for the AL, it never came to that.
Oakland reliever Justin Duchscherer was Francona's emergency pitcher and never got into the game.
The other benefit of the AL breaking out to a comfortable lead is that Francona got every position player into the game. Only Scott Podsednik and Shea Hillenbrand didn't bat for the American League.
If the situation had presented itself, Francona would have intentionally walked some of the NL sluggers.
"I've been killing myself over that one," Francona said before the game. "I think you have to [issue intentional walks if need be]. I've never walked somebody in Spring Training. I just think the players have to understand going in that the responsibility placed on Tony [La Russa] and myself trying to win the game. You may have to walk somebody, that's just the way it is. I hope it happens to him first. I really do. I hope he walks somebody first. I'll feel a hell of a lot better."
This whole experience was an interesting one for Francona. Though he finally smoothed matters over in his own city when Clement was a late addition to the squad, Francona found himself getting heckled by some Detroit natives because Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman didn't make the squad.
"Somebody at the [All-Star Gala on Monday night] started telling me I [stink] because Jeremy Bonderman didn't make the team, so we made a little bit of an early exit," said Francona.
Francona predicted before the game that the most relaxing part of his entire All-Star experience would be the nine innings that are slated for Tuesday evening.
"I'm really looking forward to this game," Francona said. "Everybody keeps saying the best is yet to come. I hope so."
As it turns out, he was on target.
"This has been the best," Francona said during his in-game interview with FOX. "You know, the point coming up to this game, it was kind of trying at times. This game is just above everything I expected. These players are awesome. They give it everything they have."
And so did Francona, and it wound up being enough.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.