Monday, October 13, 2008

Storytime with Terry Francona: Third base

It's not an easy transition, going from first to third the way Kevin Youkilis has this series for the Red Sox. Terry Francona knows. He did it once.

(In case you're wondering what happens when reporters meet with Francona before games, well, this is it. Sometimes it's on topic -- sometimes there are pressing questions to ask about Josh Beckett or Mike Lowell. Sometimes, though, this happens.)

It was the last day of the 1985 season. Francona's Montreal Expos were at Shea Stadium to play the Mets. Shortstop Hubie Brooks was pinch-run for after a fourth-inning single, and manager Buck Rodgers needed someone to take his place in the field. Thing is, no one was in the dugout. No one.

No one, that is, except Francona, and Francona was a left-handed fielder. Lefties don't ever play the infield in the major leagues -- being a left-handed fielder built like a second baseman was, in fact, what ended the Little League career of his particular writer.

But it was the last day of the season, and there was no one else.

"(Brooks) was in the clubhouse, and I saw Buck looking around, and there was nobody -- I mean, nobody," he said. "Vance Law wasn't playing. ... I looked around, and I said, 'Buck, I'll go out there.' He goes, 'OK!'"

There was no way Rodgers was going to play Francona at shortstop. But he did move Fred Manrique from this base to shortstop and put the left-handed Francona in at third base.

"I went out there, and Larry Bowa tried to bunt," Francona said. "I wanted to (expletive) kill him."

(Bowa showed bunt but pulled it back; he ended up grounding out.)

"Ray Knight hit a dribbler right over the mound; I came in and caught it and it rolled up my glove, but I threw him out," Francona said. "I only had one play and made it. ... I stayed open and let it go (awkwardly) as I was running in."

But he "panicked" when he saw closer Jeff Reardon coming in to close an otherwise meaningless game, and that's when Law made it into the game in Francona's place.

"He's got an incentive based on his saves," Francona said. "I said, 'I want no part of staying in this game.' ... I said, 'Buck, I want no part of him losing a quarter of a million dollars -- no part of this.'"

(Check out the box score from that game, by the way, and all the future managers involved: Francona, Bowa, Knight, Ron Gardenhire, Ned Yost -- and A's general manager Billy Beane.)

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