MESA, Ariz.—It’s 45 miles from the Cleveland Indians’ spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona, to Hohokam Stadium, where the Oakland A’s play, the longest distance between sites in the Cactus League.
“And we had to do it twice in one week,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
He was stating a fact, not complaining. In his seasons as a player and manager, Francona, 57, always has gone far, invariably in the proper direction.
He managed the 2004 Boston Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years, ending the so-called “Curse of the Bambino,” and won a second title in 2007, each time with a four-game sweep.
Then Francona brought his magic to the Indians. After taking over a Cleveland team that went 68-94 in 2012, he led them to four straight winning seasons. In last year’s World Series, they took a three-games-to-one lead over the Cubs and then went 10 innings in Game 7 before falling just short.
“We did everything we could,” said Francona the realist. “Not everybody can win. Disappointment, but also in the past tense. You learn from your past, move on. We’re doing everything this spring to try to do everything a little bit better.
“At some point it’s not healthy to hang on. Memories are good, but they’re memories. You want to create a new identity and personality.”
The Indians, trying to win a World Series for the first time since 1948, don’t seem to be missing much — except their infamous caricature logo, “Chief Wahoo,” no longer on the team caps because it was judged insensitive.
The personality of this Indians team is classic American League, players capable of smashing long balls and running up big scores. Cleveland already had one of the best offenses in the American League before signing free agent Edwin Encarnacion, who had 42 home runs and 127 RBIs for Toronto in 2016.
The lineup includes Carlos Santana, who hit 34 homers, and shortstop Francisco Lindor — no team wins without a strong shortstop — who last year hit .301 and not only won a Gold Glove but a Platinum Glove as the overall best defender in the AL.
Then again, as every manager, including Francona, advises, it isn’t always how your team hits the ball but how it keeps the other team from hitting the ball.
“When you think you have enough pitching,” Francona said, “go get more pitching.”
Last year the Indians got Andrew Miller from the Yankees at the trade deadline. Pitching in a variety of roles, including closer, Miller was solid until that seventh Series game, probably because he had been overused.
Now he’s one of 11 Indians in the World Baseball Classic, and Francona hopes Miller returns to Arizona the way he left: healthy and prepared.
“When you have good pitching,” said Francona — who in Miller and starters Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer has excellent pitching — “you value it. And that’s why we talk so much about catching the ball and finishing plays, not giving teams extra opportunities.
“Because when you do that, then when you score, they’re meaningful runs.”
Under Terry Francona, the Red Sox and Indians snapped significant championship droughts:
2004: His first Red Sox team improved by three games over 2003 and won Boston’s first World Series in 86 years.
2013: His first Indians team improved by 24 games over 2012.
2016: Indians won AL Central and then captured their first American League pennant since 1997 before losing the World Series to the Cubs in seven games.
Phillies 1997-2000 285-363.440
Red Sox 2004-11744-552.574
Indians 2013- 352-294 .545