Jason Kipnis has played for two managers in his big-league career, and the Indians second baseman has zero desire to play for any more than that.
The 29-year-old can’t imagine it being any better than playing for Terry Francona.
“Once you have a guy like Tito, you really don’t want anybody else to manage [you],” Kipnis said after the Indians advanced to the World Series Wednesday with a five-game victory over the Blue Jays in the ALCS. “You’re like, ‘This is the way it should be, this is the way I want it to be.’ ”
Saying Francona is respected by his players undersells things quite a bit.
During Wednesday’s celebration, players noticeably saved some of their biggest embraces not for each other but for their 57-year-old manager.
“He’s special,” Andrew Miller said.
Miller played for Francona in Boston, where the manager won two World Series titles but had an unceremonious exit after a historic Red Sox collapse in September 2011.
After a year off, many were surprised Francona chose the Indians, but the manager has always felt a bond with the organization and city because his father, Tito, played in Cleveland from 1959-64, as did Terry, in 1988.
As significant, Mark Shapiro, who currently runs the Blue Jays but ran the Indians at the time Francona was a managerial free agent, is a close friend.
Miller this year was reunited with Francona, who has led Cleveland to four straight winning seasons, when the Yankees dealt him there July 31.
“First of all, Tito does such a good job of setting the tone in the clubhouse,” Miller said. “It’s loose, that’s his style. It doesn’t mean we’re not prepared, it doesn’t mean we’re not working hard . . . We wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case.”
Miller played more than a bit part in some of the unconventional moves paying off for Francona during these playoffs, in which Cleveland is 7-1.
First among them was Game 1 of the Division Series against Boston when he brought Miller into the game in the fifth inning of a 5-4 victory.
So far in the postseason Miller, who has pitched anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning, has not allowed a run in six appearances. The 31-year-old has 21 strikeouts and two walks over 11 2⁄3 innings.
“His ability to just put us in good situations and his ability to communicate from maybe the front office or ownership to us or whatever is asked of us,” Miller said. “It’s exceptional.”
Such plaudits will only increase in the coming days as Francona will be front and center as the face of his club when the World Series begins Tuesday in Cleveland.
From a national recognition standpoint, he is the biggest name on a low-profile, small-market club. That, of course, is a result of a resume that includes World Series titles with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, the first of those snapping an 86-year title drought you might have heard about.
The Indians’ drought isn’t quite that long but it’s up there, 67 years since their 1948 crown, second-longest to the Cubs’.
He’s the 16th manager to lead two different teams to the World Series but good luck getting him to expound on that achievement. Instead, the praise goes elsewhere — to club president Chris Antonetti, GM Mike Chernoff and, naturally, the players.
“We always said if we could do it with this group it would be so special because this is as close to a family feel as you can get in a professional setting,” Francona said. “So for that part of it, it is beyond feeling good . . . Other than that, just want to talk about the players and what Chris and Cherny did acquiring Andrew Miller. I think those are the things I’d rather talk about.”
Terry Francona has been a good regular-season manager and a great one in October. His record on the bench for the three teams he’s managed:
Regular Season Postseason
Phillies (1997-2000) 285-363 (.440) ——
Red Sox (2004-11) 744-552 (.574) 28-17 (.622)*
Indians (2012-15)352-294 (.545) 7-2 (.778)
*Two World Series titles