Inside baseball - Sox’s Francona lucky to be alive - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Inside baseball - Sox’s Francona lucky to be alive

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Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005 7:51 am | Updated: 8:27 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

When Bob Melvin was hired to take over for Lou Piniella as manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2003, the other finalist for the job was Terry Francona.

Not getting the job might have been the best thing to happen to Francona, who eventually landed in Boston and broke the curse of Bambino with the greatest comeback in postseason history last year.

His forced hospital visit Wednesday — he was helicoptered back to Boston — underscores how tough it has been on him physically, however.

On his flight to interview in Seattle in early November, 2002, Francona had chest pains so intense that he believed he might be having a heart attack, he said last summer.

He went through the interview process despite feeling poorly, and considered not taking the return flight to his home in Philadelphia. Upon his return, he went straight to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his lungs.

"I was really lucky. I should have died . . . if that thing had moved during the flight,’’ said Francona, who turns 46 on April 22.

That was only the start of a winter of health issues. Francona had knee surgery before leaving for Seattle; when he got back, he was discovered to have infections in both knees. He underwent two more procedures on each knee — bringing the career total to 18.

Then it got worse. He lost about half his blood during the operations, and after an ultrasound exam was taken directly into the operating room for surgery to repair bleeding in an ephemeral artery in his right thigh. He lost so much blood that amputation was discussed.

Two weeks after being released in time for Thanksgiving, Francona could barely get out of bed because of back soreness. He returned to the hospital and was told his blood had clotted again, terribly.

A blood filter installed in the previous surgery "saved my life. I would have been dead,’’ he said.

His only concession to his blood disorder was to a batting helmet while working as the Oakland bench coach in 2003. His blood was so thin that any bump would cause a bruise. Francona interviewed for the Boston job after that season and was impressed.

"I remember leaving thinking ‘God, I hope I’m the right guy,’ because I was really impressed,’’ Francona said.

If breaking an 86-year old draught is an indicator, Francona proved to be the right guy.

BOOING MORE THAN SANTA

How bad was it in Philadelphia the first week? New manager Charlie Manuel was booed during pregame introductions on opening day at Citizens Bank Park. So was second baseman Placido Polanco. The biggest cheers in the second game of the season came when Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was shown on the video board.

The 23,345 at the second game was the lowest crowd in stadium history . . . until the third game drew 21,693. The season-ticket base has dropped from 23,500 last year to just under 18,000.

YOUNG MAN’S GAME

Dmitri Young ripped Tigers management for keeping Bobby Higginson over younger Marcus Thames out of spring training, the loudest noise he made in a homer-less spring. Then came opening day.

Young became the third player in major league history to homer thrice in the season opener in an 11-2 victory over Kansas City. George Bell (Toronto, 1988) and Karl "Tuffy’’ Rhodes (Cubs, 1994) were the others.

"Attack mode," Young said. "This offense is going to be in attack mode, and it all started with this."

Young earlier made his point in collision with Yankees catcher John Flaherty in spring, a crash that cost Young five stitches in an ear.

"The days of the nice Tigers are gone," Young said. "Milk and cookie teams finish last.’’

By the way, Thames was called up on Saturday to replace injured Ramon Martinez on Detroit’s roster and he belted a grand slam.

FINS BEGINS AGAIN

A year after opening the season as the D-Backs’ leadoff hitter, two years after spending most of his time in the middle of the order, Steve Finley batted seventh when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim faced Texas lefty Kenny Rogers on Wednesday.

"It’s a team game. It’s not about one individual,’’ said Finley, a 17-year veteran who signed a two-year, $14 million deal to add pop to the Angels’ attack that already includes Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson.

Part of manager Mike Scioscia’s reasoning is that Finley is a notoriously slow starter. He hit .225 in April last year.

OVERHEARD

• "So I wanted to be a manager, huh?" — Mets manager Willie Randolph, who lost the season opener when Braden Looper gave up two home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

• "I think we are going to win the West. The Detroit Pistons came from nowhere and look what the Texas Rangers did last year and the Angels in 2002. Why not us?’’ — Colorado owner Charlie Monfort.

• "They hit the ball very hard. Basically, I sucked today." — Cleveland closer Bob Wickman, who gave up two home runs in the ninth to lose a 3-0 lead Tuesday.

UNDERSTOOD

• The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry includes contact. In 29 head-to-head meetings since the start of last season, Red Sox pitchers have hit 30 Yankee batters, five of them in the three-game season-opening series at Yankee Stadium. Yankees pitchers have hit 16 Red Sox batters in that stretch. Starting with the 2004 ALCS, Boston has hit 10; the Yankees, one.

• Angels starter Bartolo Colon beat Texas in the season opener Tuesday, his eighth straight victory over the Rangers. He was 6-0 against them last year.

• Catcher Victor Martinez’s fiveyear, $15.5 million new contract with Cleveland takes away all three of his arbitration eligible years, which could turn into quite a bargain for the team. Cleveland also is negotiating extensions with DH Travis Hafner and left-hander C.C. Sabathia.

WHO’S HOT

• Brad Wilkinson: Outfielder hit for the cycle in Washington’s second game, becoming the 26th player in major league history to do it twice.

• Joe Randa: Cincinnati third baseman had three homers and eight RBIs in the first four games of the season.

WHO’S NOT

• Mariano Rivera: Yankees closer has blown his last four save chances (and six of his last eight) against the Red Sox. Since 2003, eight of his 15 blown saves have been against Boston.

• Mark Prior: Cubs right-hander gave up seven runs, five in the first inning, in a Triple-A start for Iowa in Albuquerque on Thursday.

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