CHICAGO — Terry Francona hasn’t managed against the Red Sox at Fenway Park since July 17, 1999, when he was with the Phillies. He returns to the third base dugout Thursday when his Cleveland Indians arrive for a four-game series.
Francona managed the Red Sox from 2004-11, winning two World Series and advancing to the postseason three other times. The Sox averaged 93 victories a season during his tenure.
“I think it will be a special day when the series kicks off tomorrow,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell, Francona’s pitching coach from 2007-10. “I would fully expect he’d get a great welcome and a great ovation, and deservedly so. That was eight incredible years that he spent [in Boston]. Looking forward to playing against him.”
The Indians, who lost to the Tigers Wednesday night, won 21 of 29 games after being swept by the Red Sox April 16-18 in Cleveland.
“They’re playing exceptionally well,” Farrell said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, and [Francona] has a lot to do with that. They’ve got a very good team.”
Francona was 4-4 managing the Phillies at Fenway from 1997-99. He had a 411-237 record at Fenway managing the Red Sox.
“I’m sure I’ll have a lot of emotions,’’ Francona told reporters in Cleveland. “The one thing I want to remind myself — and I have — is that this game is tough enough to play and I don’t want our guys having extra baggage during that series. I need to be very cognizant of that; that whatever feelings I’m having, I’ll deal with them. It’s hard enough to play this game.’’
The Red Sox fired Francona after the 2011 season. He was around the park several times last season working for ESPN and to participate in a ceremony marking Fenway’s 100th anniversary,
“I’m proud to go back there as an Indian,’’ Francona said. “I don’t want that to ever get lost in the shuffle.’’
The Red Sox are planning to recognize Francona at some point Thursday. He has had a rocky relationship with the Sox ownership group since his firing, but is close to many people within the organization.
“He knows what people think of him,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “It’ll be good to see him. But we played against them already. That part is not a big deal.”
Said Farrell: “I’m sure this is a unique situation, his coming back. Knowing Tito, I think he looks at every game as being important and every series as being important. This will be a different setting, I’m sure. I’m sure in a lot of ways he’ll reflect on the time spent [in Boston] and hopefully all good thoughts.”
Victorino still out
Right fielder Shane Victorino, who strained his left hamstring on Monday, missed his second consecutive game. But he has improved.
“There’s increased looseness in the hamstring, but still unavailable tonight,” Farrell said before Wednesday night’s series finale against the White Sox.
There is no timetable for when Victorino might play.
“Today was a big day as far as his status and improvement that he’s showing,” Farrell said. “Our plan was to kind of reevaluate where he’s at tomorrow and then go from there.”
The Sox are hopeful Victorino avoids the disabled list. But it remains a possibility.
Rehab game for Ross
David Ross, who has been on the concussion disabled list since May 12, will catch for Double A Portland Thursday. The Sea Dogs have an 11 a.m. game at Hadlock Field.
Farrell said that is the only rehab game planned for Ross. So, he could be activated as soon as Friday.
Lefthander Franklin Morales, who is on a rehab assignment, will start the game and is scheduled for 80 pitches and/or five innings.
Daniel Nava was thrilled to see Massachusetts native Chris Colabello make his major league debut with the Twins on Wednesday.
Like Nava, Colabello was an undrafted college player who worked his way up through independent ball. Nava made his debut at the age of 27. Colabello is 29.
“We met in spring training and he told me I was inspiration. That made me feel great,” Nava said. “I wished him luck and I was glad to see him get a chance. I hope he plays great.”
Colabello played at Milford (Mass.) High and Assumption College before joining the Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am League. He spent years in the independent league before signing with the Twins last season.
“It’s a great story,” Nava said. “Hopefully, Chris inspires other players.”
Dempster cuts back
Ryan Dempster flew back to Boston to get a full night of sleep in advance of his start on Thursday. Dempster threw 127 pitches against the Twins last Saturday and decided to skip his usual bullpen session Tuesday in favor of making some throws from flat ground. “As far as how his arm felt coming out of his last start, he didn’t feel like there was any changes or lingering effect from the pitches he did throw,” Farrell said . . . Farrell played catch with his son on the field early in the day. Luke Farrell was second-team All-Big Ten as a senior at Northwestern and is projected to go in the first 5-10 rounds of the draft . . . Colorful White Sox television analyst Ken “Hawk” Harrelson visited the Red Sox clubhouse before the game. Harrelson played for the Red Sox from 1967 until he was traded early in the 1969 season. Harrelson had 35 home runs and 109 RBIs in 1968 and finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting . . . The eighth-annual “Sox for Socks” drive will be Saturday and Sunday. Fans are asked to bring new white athletic socks to Fenway for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. Volunteers will collect them at each gate. Doctors and nurses from BHCHP will distribute the socks to patients they care for across greater Boston.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.