Terry Francona didn’t manage his way into the Hall of Fame Monday night, because he was probably already there.
But it didn’t hurt.
Francona won two World Series with the Red Sox and is about to go to another with the Indians, and at this point you’d have to be a disgruntled late-90s Phillies fan to argue against Francona. Not that there aren’t plenty of those.
Bobby Cox, who was to October what the house with the lights off is to Halloween, is already in the Hall, so the recent managerial bar isn’t too high. Although given Francona’s penchant for injury as a player, he’d probably sprain an ankle stepping over it.
Disraeli said, “Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius,” and Francona had a little of both on Monday, thanks to Trevor Bauer.
Bauer was Francona’s starting pitcher and he threw 21 pitches before the stitches on a cut on his finger came undone. Bauer got the cut working on his drone between starts, which is typically Trevor. He can put unmanned objects into flight, be they drones or baseballs. Unfortunately for Bauer, some of the home runs remain airborne longer.
Bauer walked two of the four batters he faced, which is also typically Trevor, since his attention span is often smaller than the strike zone.
With Bauer out, Francona made like the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, and used six relievers, starting with Dan Otero (1.53 ERA, .526 OPS against), his best of the middle innings, to escape a two-out, two-on first.
Going full bullpen sounds worse than it is. There are certain inherent advantages, be they the platoon or the short burst relievers go instead of pacing themselves for the longer stay. Short relievers apply themselves as hockey players do, all out till their shift is over.
You can’t manage that way over the long season, or probably even all seven games of a postseason series. But you can for a Game 3 when you’re up 2-0 and you have Andrew Miller at the end, which Francona did.
He gave Miller a two-run lead and four outs to get and Miller did so, three by strikeouts. Miller has been the best pitcher of this postseason, fanning 20 over nine shutout innings, winning one game, saving one and holding three. In his postseason career, Miller has fanned 30 over 17.1 scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and three walks.
The Yankees received a good haul of prospects for Miller, but when those get them into the postseason, they’ll remember why Miller is valuable.
The Indians got a home run, a double and an intuitive baserunning play from Mike Napoli, who’s as much a constant in the postseason over the last decade as Bill Murray is in this one. This is Napoli’s 11th major-league season and the eighth he’s been in the postseason, missing only in 2006 and 2010 with the Angels and 2014 in the Red Sox’s worst-to-first-back-to-worst trilogy.
The only surprising thing about Napoli this postseason is his beard. The 2013 Red Sox’s 2013 team picture looked as if it could have been taken at Gettysburg 150 years previously; now Napoli’s playoff beard is neatly trimmed and not even as long as that on Miller, who was bare-faced as a Yankee due to that organization’s apparent pining for the ’50s, when they won all the time. Memo to the Steinbrenners: it had nothing to do with facial hair.
The Indians have four chances to win the ALCS and Corey Kluber will start two of them, if necessary, the first on Tuesday on three days rest. That’s not genius on Francona’s part, but desperation. With Bauer’s injury, if Kluber doesn’t start Game 4, the Indians may not otherwise have a Game 7 starter.
Not that it looks like they’ll need one.