2 Boston Red Sox All the pieces are in place, so the burden falls on nice guy Terry Francona

April 04, 2004

Seeking the vacant Red Sox manager's job in November, Terry
Francona had just wrapped up a seven-hour interview with general
manager Theo Epstein and assistant G.M. Josh Byrnes. After
Francona left the room, the first words out of Epstein's mouth
were, "Is he too nice?"

Everything comes back to last Oct. 16 for the Red Sox. Maybe it
always will. Three-run lead in Game 7 of the American League
Championship Series. Five outs to go. Pedro Martinez tiring.
Three bullpen stalwarts ready to go. And manager Grady Little
turned into Chicken Little, leaving the wilted Martinez in long
enough to let the Yankees tie a game they would win in 11 innings
and leaving Red Sox fans with another bad dream that will
probably never go away. When the Sox went looking for a manager
after declining to pick up the option on Little's contract, the
one thing the brass had to know was whether Francona would have
the guts on the biggest stage in Boston sports--postseason
baseball--to make the right decision, no matter how any of his
$15 million ballplayers would react.

Epstein and Byrnes studied Francona's past, which included one
pretty unimpressive major league managerial job in Philadelphia.
Four seasons, all losing ones, and a reputation for letting
players get away with too much. Nevertheless, says Epstein, "We
were satisfied by what we found out. Numerous times, he was,
well, very assertive."

"I can guarantee you he'll be tough enough," says righthander
Curt Schilling, the lone Red Sox player who was with Francona in
Philadelphia. "I'll tell you his problem in Philly: The front
office didn't back him, and guys took advantage of him. We had a
player [outfielder Bobby Abreu] who was late a couple times, and
Terry warned him, and it happened again in September, and Terry
told him to pack his bags. He wanted to suspend him for the rest
of the year. But the front office stepped in and didn't allow it.
That won't happen here, because he's got complete support from
the front office and ownership."

What about the stories of Schilling, not Francona, dictating when
he got pulled from games? "Another Philly myth," says Schilling.
"I was a veteran, so he gave me a little more leeway in games.
But I never told him how to handle me. I need a manager. I want a
manager."

This is a diverse team. There's all-business Nomar Garciaparra,
crank-yanker Kevin Millar, space cadet Manny Ramirez, fireball
Trot Nixon, loosey-goosey David Ortiz. On one spring training
afternoon in the Red Sox' clubhouse in Fort Myers, Fla., salsa
music boomed from two speakers. Ramirez bobbed through the room.
Millar danced a funky dance. Garciaparra had his head in his
locker, reading. Derek Lowe talked with a visitor about his
beloved Detroit Lions. This is not the "25-players, 25-cabs"
Boston team of a generation ago, but this is a veteran club that
got used to Little's hands-off style. In his first team meeting
of the spring, Francona told his players what they wanted to
hear. "You're a veteran team," he said, "and I'd love you to
police yourselves. But if I have to step in, I will."

"I am nice, and I won't apologize for it," says Francona, the son
of former major leaguer Tito Francona. "That's how I was
raised--to be respectful. I'm not confrontational, but there will
be days when these guys aren't happy with me. I will handle what
needs to be handled."

Francona, the bench coach last year in Oakland, won't
second-guess Little for his decision to leave Martinez in against
the Yankees. "But if I'm going to pull a guy, almost every time
I'll [decide to] pull him before I leave the dugout. I'll know,"
Francona says. "Part of my responsibility is to keep [Schilling
and Martinez] healthy in August and September. If that takes
aggravating them a few times early in the year, I can live with
that." He's thinking of breaking up his two big guns in the
rotation by slotting knuckleballer Tim Wakefield between them.
Imagine that: Martinez's 93-mph fastball and knee-buckling change
one day, Wakefield's 64-mph knuckler the next, Schilling's 95-mph
heater the third, followed by Lowe, the pitcher with the best
ground-ball-inducing sinker in baseball.

"When you can sit here at this time of year," says Lowe, "and you
can't see any weaknesses, that's pretty special."

There didn't seem to be any last October either. That's why Terry
Francona got this job. --P.K.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE THE RIGHT STUFF Schilling, who won a World Series with Arizona, is the key addition to an upgraded pitching staff.
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN TIETZ/WIREIMAGE.COM VARITEK

IN FACT

Pedro Martinez led the American League in ERA and opponents'
batting average in each of the last two seasons.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Red Sox

"This is a desperation year for the Red Sox, and they know it. If
they don't win it all, there's no telling how many of them will
be back.... Pedro Martinez isn't the Pedro of old, but he still
has that arrogance--which I like. He has to reach back a little
more to throw 95 mph, and when he does that he has trouble going
nine.... Curt Schilling is lights out when he's healthy. I just
wonder if he's going to break down again.... Keith Foulke has the
mental makeup of a great closer, but he's a fly ball reliever who
relies on his changeup. Those changeups that were fly ball outs
in Oakland might be home runs in Fenway.... The offense is one of
the best, but I can't imagine that Bill Mueller, David Ortiz and
the others will have the career years they had last season....
They're calling Trot Nixon's back injury [out until May] a
herniated disk, but I hear it is a lot worse. If he can't go,
Kevin Millar may have to play right, which could be an
adventure.... Jason Varitek is one of the most underrated players
in the league. He's the general on the field and is very good
defensively."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Damon
3B Mueller
LF Ramirez
SS Garciaparra
DH Ortiz
1B Millar
RF Nixon
C Varitek
2B Reese

JOHNNY DAMON
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 51 .273 12 67 30

TROT NIXON
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 74 .306 28 87 4

POKEY REESE [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 240 .215 1 12 6

KEVIN MILLAR
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 80 .276 25 96 3

JASON VARITEK
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 83 .273 25 85 3

BILL MUELLER
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 87 .326 19 85 3

NOMAR GARCIAPARRA
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 7 .301 28 105 19

MANNY RAMIREZ
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 6 .325 37 104 3

BENCH

GABE KAPLER
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 250 .271 4 27 6

ELLIS BURKS [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 215 .263 6 28 1

DESIGNATED HITTER

DAVID ORTIZ
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 65 .288 31 101 0

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Pedro Martinez 1 14 4 6.4 1.04 2.22
RH Curt Schilling 23 8 9 7.0 1.05 2.95
[New acquisition]
RH Derek Lowe 40 17 7 6.2 1.42 4.47
RH Tim Wakefield 82 11 7 6.0 1.30 4.09
RH Byung-Hyun Kim 90 9 10 6.0 1.12 3.31

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Keith Foulke 15 9 1 43 0.89 2.08
[New acquisition]
RH Scott Williamson 172 5 4 21 1.40 4.16
RH Mike Timlin 191 6 4 2 1.03 3.55

2003 RECORD
95-67
second in AL East

MANAGER
Terry Francona
first season with Boston

(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)