By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON Less than 24 hours earlier, his team had been bounced from what appeared to be a certain playoff berth after a hideous month of September.Thursday afternoon, Red Sox manager Terry Francona sat, stoically, to the right of general manager Theo Epstein as the two addressed the media.
Epstein will likely be one of the people who decides Franconas fate if Epstein stays with the organization. After his team started out the season despite grand expectations going 0-6 and 2-12, the Sox rebounded to enter September with the best record in the American League, at 83-52, behind only the Phillies. But, a horrid September, when the Sox went 7-20 amid abysmal starting pitching, shoddy defense, and lack of timely hitting, has left the Sox out of the postseason and clouded Franconas future with the team hes managed for the past eight seasons.
Francona, likewise, was noncommittal on his preference to remain with the Sox.
Theo and I talked today a little bit and I think well continue to talk tomorrow. he said. I think maybe its best today to stay with where were at. Its still pretty fresh and pretty raw. Its a fair question, just wed rather focus on the other stuff today, if thats okay. Its a fair question.
It was a challenging season for Francona. But was it his most trying?
Only because it's fresh in our minds, he said. Its easy to forget troubles in the past. Theres not a whole lot here that isnt trying, even in the best of times, because everything is so important to people here. And thats good. But, because its fresh and raw, it seems like this was the most challenging season. But there've been a lot of trying moments here. We just fought through them a bit better in the past.
Francona mentioned calling a team meeting earlier this month . . . ironically, after the Sox had won the night before, pummeling the Blue Jays, 14-0, in Toronto.
I think every teams obviously different. This team, I think, became challenging at the end, he said. I called the meeting because there were some things I was worried about. I thought we were spending too much energy on things that werent putting our best foot forward toward winning. And we spent a few minutes in the clubhouse that day talking about that. There were some things that did concern me. Teams normally, as the season progresses, theres events that make you care about each other, and this club, it didnt always happen as much as I wanted it to. And I was frustrated by that.
Asked if it were on-field or off-field issues that concerned him, Francona replied:
No, no, I just meant I wanted to make sure we put our best foot forward towards giving ourselves the best chance to win. Its hard to win, even with really good clubs. But I wanted to make sure that they understood. And there were enough guys in that room that knew what it was like to win. There were some guys in the room that had won with other teams. And then there were some people in the room that hadnt. Just wanted to make sure we put our best foot forward because nothing is guaranteed. I just wanted to remind them and tell them what I thought.
There are times when team bonding happens naturally, other times when it needs an assist.
Probably a little bit of both, Francona said. Ultimately, you dont need a team that wants to go out to dinner together. But you need to have a team that wants to protect each other on the field and be fiercely loyal to each other on the field. Thats what ultimately is really important.
Franconas relationship with John Lackey appeared to be difficult. Lackey would often roll his eyes or throw his arms in the air when he wasnt happy with a play by one of his teammates. Several times this season, he stared down Francona while the manager walked from the dugout to the mound to remove Lackey, who went 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA, from a game. Francona denied there were problems between him and Lackey.
I dont think you can put in a guys contract that hes going to make a certain amount of money he cant roll his eyes, Francona said. I dont think guys in the clubhouse have a problem with Lack, nor do I. I think we certainly wish it would have gone better on the mound. But Ive never had a problem with Lack at all.
But he acknowledges his team was lacking at times when it came to being loyal and protective of each other.
I think we fell short at times, he said. Thats what I think general manager Theo Epstein was talking about earlier. We noticed some things during the year . . . I respect the players a lot. Been around those guys for a long time. But to be the very best . . . theres got to be some extraordinary things that happen and I thought at times we didnt put our best foot forward and thats my responsibility. Thats why it bothered me.
Its still probably a little raw and fresh for me to kind of touch on it right now. Were speaking about 12 hours after a really tough loss. But I wanted us to handle things on the field a little bit better than we did and at times we just didnt get there. And it was very difficult.
And with that -- like Epstein -- come regrets.
I regret the way the month turned out, Francona said. I dont regret the way we worked at it and kept plugging away. We spent too much time and were too prepared to say that not a lot of things didnt work out very well. But, no, I can live with myself on the intensity and the work we put in.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen