Red Sox

Francona speaks on team bonding trouble

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Francona speaks on team bonding trouble

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

NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

CHICAGO -For the Los Angeles Dodgers, it's beginning to look a lot like 1988.

Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip - on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and company to the championship 29 years ago. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. Their patient lineup is coming up big in key spots and their pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline.

Not even a return to Wrigley Field could get the Cubs back on track after a rough stay in Los Angeles. Chicago manager Joe Maddon juggled his lineup, inserting Kyle Schwarber into the No. 2 slot and benching slumping second baseman Javier Baez, but the defending World Series champions were shut down by another Dodgers starter and more stellar relief from the NL West champions.

Making their third straight appearance in the NLCS, the weary Cubs also hurt themselves with a couple of big mistakes. Carl Edwards Jr. walked Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, continuing a rocky postseason for the reliever and leading to a round of boos from a frustrated crowd of 41,871. A passed ball brought home another run in the eighth, and pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

Darvish departed after striking out Addison Russell in the seventh, pausing for congratulations from his whole infield before heading to the dugout. The Japanese right-hander allowed six hits, including Schwarber's first-inning homer, in his second career playoff win - both coming this year. He struck out seven and walked one.

Tony Watson got two outs, Brandon Morrow worked the eighth and Kenley Jansen closed it out after Ross Stripling gave up two hits in the ninth. With manager Dave Roberts pushing all the right buttons, Los Angeles' bullpen has yet to allow a run in the series.

The Cubs finished with eight hits, one more than in the first two games combined.

The only four-game postseason sweep for the Dodgers came in the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees. If Los Angeles can finish off Chicago on Wednesday, the Dodgers would have days off before hosting the Yankees or Houston Astros in the World Series opener.

Schwarber's sixth career postseason homer got Chicago off to a fast start, but Jon Jay struck out with two on to end the inning. The Dodgers responded with Ethier's leadoff drive in the second and Taylor's second homer of the series in the third, a mammoth shot to center off losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

Ethier had two hits in his first start of this year's playoffs after he missed most of the season with a herniated lumbar disk. Taylor also had two hits and is 4 for 14 for the series, helping make up for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to a back injury.

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ALCS: Judge home run sparks New York, Yankees beat Astros 6-4 to even series

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ALCS: Judge home run sparks New York, Yankees beat Astros 6-4 to even series

NEW YORK -  With a soaring shot headed for Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, Aaron Judge got New York back on track for another memorable October.

Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the unflappable New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and tie the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Baby Bombers trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored when Gary Sanchez hit a go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees overcame three errors and have roared back from a second straight 0-2 series deficit - they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth to cap a three-hitter. New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs and won for the 18th time in their last 21 home games.

Yankee Stadium will be rocking again when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday. It's a rematch of the series opener, when Keuchel outdid the Japanese right-hander in a 2-1 Astros win.

An AL MVP candidate marred in a sluggish October, Judge sparked the Yankees by chasing McCullers, who baffled the Yankees with his power breaking ball.

Except for the last one.

Judge launched a curveball into the netting above center field's Monument Park for New York's second hit.

"Once we're within striking distance like that, anything can happen," Judge said.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch pulled McCullers after 81 pitches, Didi Gregorius tripled off Chris Devenski and Sanchez brought Gregorius in with a sacrifice fly.

"I thought Aaron's home run just lit a little spark," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a double to left, and pinch hitter Chase Headley then did the same - only after falling between first and second base, taking one step back, then heading for second and sliding in ahead of Jose Altuve's tag.

"Panic," Headley recalled. "I went from one of the best feelings of my career to one of the worst in just a matter of seconds, but fortunately it worked out."

Brett Gardner brought in Frazier on a groundout, and Judge came to bat with the bundled crowd on its feet.

He reached down to stay with a slider and drilled a double high off the left-field wall as a fan in a longsleeve yellow shirt reached down and touched the ball. Gardner came home with the tying run, and Gregorius grounded a single just beyond shortstop Carlos Correa's reach to put runners at the corner. Sanchez, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, scored them both with a slicing drive that skipped to the wall in right-center.

Houston had not lost consecutive games since Sept. 8-10 at Oakland and the major leagues' best road record during the regular season. The Astros had just three hits and are hitting .153 in the series.

Yankees starter Sonny Gray pitched one-hit ball through five innings but again had no run support. His teammates have yet to score for him in four career postseason starts while he's still on the mound, including twice with New York this year.

Houston took a 3-0 lead in the sixth after George Springer walked leading off, and Josh Reddick reached on catcher's interference by Austin Romine - inserted into lineup for his defense.

Robertson walked Altuve and struck out Carlos Correa before Yuri Gurriel lined a three-run double past Frazier and all the way to the wall. Gurriel got hung up between second and third as Altuve scored, and he was tagged out by Judge to end a rundown.

Houston added a fourth run when second baseman Starlin Castro misplayed Brian McCann's grounder in the seventh, allowing Marwin Gonzalez to score from second. It was Castro's second error of the game.

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