07/16/08 3:21 AM ET
Emotional roller coaster for Francona
Skipper enjoyed his role, but experienced plethora of emotions
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
When the night started, Francona's job was to manage the American League in the 79th All-Star Game, and last at Yankee Stadium. But it turned into a lot more than that.
By the time the American League's 4-3, 15-inning victory had concluded, Francona had deployed all 32 players on his roster. Only after it was over -- all four hours and 54 minutes of it -- could he dare to exhale.
"You know, you wait a lot of your life to do something like this," Francona said. "And in the last two hours, it wasn't a whole lot of fun. I was very nervous. I actually was more nervous before the game than I ever thought I would be. You know, but an excitable, you know, nervousness. It was fun to be part of something so special. And then later on, [I] started to have panic set in."
That's because he had run out of pitching. Rays lefty Scott Kazmir came on for the top of the 15th, and Francona had nobody left. And Kazmir was not in a position to throw all night, having thrown 104 pitches on Sunday.
In fact, Francona hadn't even planned on using Kazmir until the desperation set in. One thing nobody wanted was a tie.
So Kazmir blanked the NL in that top of the 15th, and Michael Young's walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning prevented he ace from having to throw another inning.
"I mean, we got to the point where [Tigers manager] Jimmy Leyland saw him, came down to the dugout just to check, and I asked him if he could pitch," Francona said. "It wasn't a real fun situation. I mean, that's just it was you try so hard to win and get everybody in. I thought we excelled at that, because we used everybody. We did a great job of using everybody."
And if the game had dragged on a few innings more, Francona confessed that he might have been forced to put his right fielder, J.D. Drew, on the pitcher's mound and send Evan Longoria -- the designated hitter -- into the outfield. Drew wound up winning the Most Valuable Player by belting a two-run homer, adding a single and stealing a base.
"He might have been a little more of an MVP if we went a couple more innings," said Francona. "He might have pitched. He's been begging me a long time to pitch, and we almost got close. But we were still a ways away from that."
Even with home-field advantage in the World Series at stake, Drew would not have turned down the opportunity.
"I've given him a hard time for the couple years that I played for him, if he ever runs out [of pitching], just give me a holler out here," said Drew. "We would have seen what happened. But after it started to [become a possibility], I was a little bit nervous to be honest with you."
The night started with all seven Red Sox All-Stars getting harshly booed during pregame introductions, not to mention Francona and his coaching staff.
But as the night wore on, Red Sox-Yankee hostilities became an afterthought to a simply wild baseball game.
"I wouldn't want to be a manager in that situation," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who played two innings on defense but didn't get an at-bat. "That puts you in a very awkward situation because of the two sides. You've got 30 teams relying on their pitchers not getting abused or hurt or whatever. Fortunately, we won before somebody had to make that decision of who was going to throw next."
Drew was a culprit for making it such a long night. Until his game-tying homer with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, the AL hadn't done much of anything.
"It was great to see," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "You definitely root for your teammates a little bit more. I'm so happy for him. That home run, the ball was smoked."
Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez -- the three Sox players who started -- had no such luck. Pedroia drew a walk during his 0-for-1 performance. Youkilis and Ramirez both went 0-for-2.
"It was a fun experience," said Pedroia. "It seemed like for me, the time I was in there, it happened so fast. The game kind of, it was a wild game. We had chances, they had chances, we just couldn't score until I don't even know what inning it was, the 15th or 16th. I'm glad we won. I had a fun time."
For Varitek, one of the highlights of taking up residency in the Yankees' clubhouse was getting to see Thurman Munson's locker, which has remained on display since the former catching great died in a plane crash in 1979.
"I looked at Munson's locker. Actually, Derek [Jeter] pointed it out to me," Varitek said. "He pointed it out over there and I thought that was pretty cool."
Despite struggling through the worst first half of his career offensively, Varitek made sure to enjoy his All-Star experience.
"It's an experience that I'm not going to take for granted," Varitek said.
It is also one that Francona will never forget.
"I have acne on my forehead," Francona said. "I told Jim Leyland, I'll quit cursing, I'll quit chewing; I lied. It was tough. It really was. It was fun to be a part of, because, I mean, I enjoyed the players so much and the staff. But it is a little difficult. It started going a little longer than we were comfortable with."
Which only made the end all the more gratifying.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.