When closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley last night, the Red Sox registered their 61st win of the season, and in the process extended their lead over the New York Yankees to three games.
The Olde Towne Team has now won 12 of its last 14 games and has improved its record to a season-high 24 games over .500. A remarkable accomplishment considering the club’s 2-10 start and the plethora of injuries it has had to deal with throughout the campaign—Carl Crawford, J. D. Drew, Jed Lowrie, Clay Buccholz, John Lackey, Jon Lester, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
Above and beyond the team accomplishment, the triumph also marked a personal milestone for manager Terry Francona, who recorded his 1,000th career win as a major league skipper.
Typically low-key about his personal achievement, Francona remarked, “Someone did tell me yesterday (my win total) was 998 or I wouldn’t have known. I don’t think I get too caught up in personal stuff, I hope I don’t. What it does mean to me is that I got really lucky. I caught a huge break just being able to be the manager here.”
During his press conference, he reminisced about his first win as a manager, which came in his first game with the Philadelphia Phillies on April 1, 1997 (a 3-0 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles). The winning pitcher? Curt Schilling. He joked, “I thought it was going to be easy.”
He soon found out it wasn’t so easy. His club went the rest of the road trip without a win. After four years, he was fired and in 2001 he found himself out of uniform. He served as a special assistant to the general manager in Cleveland. He spent 2002 (Texas) and 2003 (Oakland) as a bench coach before coming to Boston as the club’s new manager after Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in a little too long in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
He won the World Series in his first year as the Red Sox manager, helping to end “The Curse of Tom Yawkey.” His club then won a second world championship in 2007.
But yesterday was about his personal legacy. This spring, former Red Sox outfielder said he believes “Tito” will go down as the greatest manager in team history. It’s hard to argue with that assertion.
If you read my website very often, you know that I frequently take issue with his in-game decisions, which I believe are often flawed. But it is clear that his players love him and play hard for him. Reliever Dan Bard observed, “He’s well respected by everyone in this clubhouse. He sticks up for us, and we try to do the same for him when we’re out there on the field.”
Francona said simply: “We’ve had a great organization and we’ve had great players, and I just feel pretty fortunate.”
Francona’s managerial record now stands at 1,000-880. The first 285 wins came with with the Phillies, and the last 715 have come with the Red Sox. Assuming good health, he is destined to add a lot of wins to that total.
And based on the team he has this season, it is very possible that he will add another world championship to his resume sometime in late October or early November.