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Terry Francona shares advice for Yankees to match Red Sox comeback

by NYPost
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Terry Francona shares advice for Yankees to match Red Sox comeback

Terry Francona did not give a Knute Rockne speech after his 2004 Red Sox went down, and went down hard, in Game 3 of the ALCS. The Yankees had just steamrolled his team by a 19-8 count, and the home clubhouse in the bowels of Fenway Park felt as grim as the city morgue. 

The manager, a rookie in Boston after four losing years in Philly, was not concerned about the deafening silence in the room. 

“After a game like that you’ll always be quiet because you’re respecting the loss,” Francona told The Post on Sunday. “The next day we came to the ballpark and [Kevin] Millar was yelling, and my players were the same as they always were, which to me was a really good sign.” 

With Millar and a surplus of fellow free spirits, those Red Sox called themselves “Idiots.” But they were smart enough to understand that baseball is wildly unpredictable, and that if they could just stay in the fight a little longer, something crazy might happen. 

Like becoming the only baseball team to ever win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. 

Francona was on the phone Sunday morning to discuss how his Red Sox pulled off the greatest comeback of all, with the Yankees, of all teams, needing to match the feat 18 years later to advance to the World Series. 

Terry Francona, right, celebrates with David Ortiz after the Red Sox completed the 2004 ALCS comeback.
Terry Francona, right, celebrates with David Ortiz after the Red Sox completed the 2004 ALCS comeback.
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Of course, these Yanks just knocked out Francona’s Guardians in the Division Series. Asked if he thought Aaron Boone’s team was good enough to make the seemingly impossible possible, and take four straight from a Houston team that has owned it, Francona said it wasn’t his business to give a direct answer. 

“Anybody can be good enough,” he said. “It’s a long shot, but anybody can do it. I’ve always told people that you’ve got to be a little lucky, and then good enough to take advantage of that luck.” 

The word “lucky” has been a triggering ALCS adjective ever since Yankees Game 2 starter Luis Severino used it to describe the Astros and the open-roof impact on Alex Bregman’s homer and Aaron Judge’s would-be homer in Minute Maid Park. Truth is, the Astros have needed a lot of things to beat the Yanks over the years, and luck isn’t one of them

As it turned out, the Yankees entered Sunday night’s Game 4 in dire need of luck. Their director of mental conditioning, Chad Bohling, actually sent players highlights of the 2004 Red Sox comeback. ESPN’s Eduardo Perez also connected David Ortiz with Boone via FaceTime so the retired slugger could give the manager some advice. Believe it or not, the Yanks were trying to turn the most devastating meltdown in club history into a positive. 

Aaron Boone speaks to reporters before Game 4.
Aaron Boone speaks to reporters before Game 4.

If nothing else, Boone would need the kind of steadying approach that Francona used to lead his Red Sox to an unimagined place. Starting with no win-one-for-the-Gipper speech in the pregame hours. 

“We’re not like football, where we play once a week,” Francona said. “I think you try to have a culture where you’ve already done all your meetings, and guys know how to play, and you just let them go play. I think if you keep meeting like that, they go deaf on you. 

“I tell people all the time that you don’t know that you can win four in a row. But if any group could do it, I thought that was the group. We had a bunch of characters, but they had a lot of character.” 

The ’04 Red Sox didn’t have to overcome only a 3-0 deficit. They had to overcome the Curse of the Bambino, the fact that the franchise hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, the fact that the Yankees had tormented them for so long, and the fact that Boone had walked them off the year before with his Game 7 homer. 

“It was going to be hard enough to beat the Yankees, because they were really good,” Francona said. “There was a lot of noise, so I was just trying to block it out. I was always just talking about the next game. It looks daunting to win three or four in a row, but hey, let’s go win tomorrow. Let’s just earn the right to play another game.” 

The Red Sox earned the right to play Game 5 when (current Dodgers manager) Dave Roberts stole second in the ninth inning of Game 4, scored the tying run on Bill Mueller’s hit off Mariano Rivera, and then watched with everyone else as David Ortiz homered off Paul Quantrill in the 12th. The Red Sox earned the right to play Game 6 by again tying the score off Rivera (on a Jason Varitek sacrifice fly) the following night, and by winning the Boston Marathon on Ortiz’s 14th-inning single off Esteban Loaiza. 

Terry Francona argues with an umpire during Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.
Terry Francona argues with an umpire during Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.
Getty Images

Two prominent Yankees later admitted they felt like they were down 3-2 in the series on the flight back to New York. The feeling on the Red Sox flight? 

“We were the same on the plane as we were all year,” Francona recalled. “The same guys were playing cards. Nothing changed, which was a good thing.” 

Curt Schilling pitched his bloody sock game in The Bronx to set up a surreal Game 7. “A couple of players came in and asked me if they could just take BP in the cage, because they were playing Yankeeography on the board and they were sick of it,” Francona recalled. “I was fine with that. I trusted them.” 

In an act of desperation, the Yankees had Bucky “F–king” Dent throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi Berra. The Stadium crowd chanted “1918,” and one fan dressed as the ghost of Babe Ruth. None of it mattered. Johnny Damon made it 6-0 with his grand slam in the second inning, and that was that. 

“I just thought it was poetic justice,” Francona said, “to win when everybody thought we’d lose, after all the other times when people thought we’d win and we lost.” 

His 2004 Red Sox stand as the only team out of 39 to ever climb out of an 0-3 hole. Sunday night, against all odds, the Yankees had a shot to start trying to make that two out of 40.

This story originally appeared on NYPost

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