No one wanted to make the moment larger than the game itself.
It had been two years since a bitter divorce cast a unnecessary pall over the eight years Terry Francona spent with the Red Sox and the two World Series titles he helped bring to the city. Since then it seemed like he had lived several lifetimes, one as a television analyst, another as an author, before recharging and ultimately reentering baseball as manager of the Cleveland Indians.
He had returned to Fenway Park last spring under the bright spotlight of the ballpark’s 100th anniversary. He had faced his former team already, but that was in Cleveland.
He was coming back to Boston a visitor and a rival but still a figurehead of one of the most memorable periods of Red Sox history.
It was inevitable that he would be embraced.
“It’s kind of expected,” Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “He’s one of the best managers that ever managed the Red Sox. He brought a couple World Series titles and I don’t think the people are going to forget that. He’s well respected and he earned and deserved every bit of it.”
Francona was returning, though, with something new and something hotter, as if he had ripped a page from the post-breakup handbook.
The Indians have been the best team in baseball over the past month. No team in the majors entered Thursday with more home runs than the 62 Cleveland had. And their pitching staff, which had found consistency elusive for many years, had stabilized and led the team to the top of the American League Central.
Not that Francona’s ex-team was in bad shape by any means. The presence of new manager John Farrell, a close friend of Francona, had settled the team after a turbulent 2012 season. The Sox were a half-game out of first place in the AL East, coming back from a 6-3 road trip.
Everything went right for the Indians in the opener of the four-game set. They rattled off 16 hits, five for extra bases, and went 8 for 19 with runners in scoring position while drubbing the Red Sox, 12-3.
Asdrubal Cabrera, who has heated up after stumbling in April, went 2 for 4 for his sixth multi-hit game of the season. Drew Stubbs went 3 for 5 with a double, a triple, and three RBIs, snapping out of an 0-for-10 slumber. Mark Reynolds went 3 for 4 and drove in three.
The win kept the Indians from losing the season series to the Sox for the eighth time in 12 years.
“They’ve got a very good team,” Farrell said. “They’re in first place for a reason. They’ve got a very good lineup, they’re balanced. They’ve got good pitching, a very good bullpen. They’re not in first place by accident.”
Thanks to a twice-delayed game Wednesday night, the Indians didn’t get to their hotel in Boston until 4 a.m. But if they were at all fatigued, it was hard to notice.
Farrell threw three pitchers at them in the first six innings and they all got knocked around. Ryan Dempster was trying to shake off a pair of bad starts, but he ran into the wrong lineup.
Dempster gave up four runs on five hits and four walks, and got the quick hook after a three-run third inning.
“They’re a lot better when you don’t throw quality pitches,” he said.
The third frame started strong enough for Dempster. He won an eight-pitch battle with Jason Kipnis, getting him to whiff at a splitter down and away.
But Dempster quickly lost his control, and the inning got away from him as well.
He gave up a one-out single to Cabrera, issued back-to-back walks to Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana, gave up a two-run single to Reynolds, walked Yan Gomes, and gave up an RBI fielder’s choice before finally striking out Stubbs to keep the Indians from batting around.
In his last three starts Dempster has given up 15 earned runs in 12⅔ innings, paying dearly for his 11 walks. On Thursday he threw 85 pitches in a hurry, running his total over the past three outings to 312.
“I’m letting guys get back in the count, throwing pitches that aren’t close,” Dempster said. “So I’ll just work on it between starts and bounce back and go out there and five days from now do a better job.”
Still, with one swing by David Ortiz in the bottom of the inning the Sox were back in it for a cruelly fleeting moment.
With Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia aboard, Ortiz turned on Zach McAllister’s 92-mile-per-hour fastball and launched it over the Indians bullpen, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
“Fastball in,” Ortiz said. “Fastball out.”
It could have been a grand slam had Jacoby Ellsbury not been cut down at the plate while trying to score from second on Pedroia’s single to center field.
Pedroia’s hit was low, nearly taking McAllister’s head off. Center fielder Michael Bourn grabbed it on the fourth hop and came up gunning.
He threw a strike to the plate and Gomes was able to swipe Ellsbury on the back of his jersey before Ellsbury could get a hand on the plate.
Ellsbury had the green light from third base coach Brian Butterfield.
“He was waved home,” Farrell said. “In a situation, with David coming up, you can debate whether that was overaggressive, but Jake’s our fastest base runner.
“Based on putting pressure on Bourn to throw a strike from 200 feet away, he did. So I’ve got no problem with the aggressiveness on our part and the decision made by Butter.”
Cleveland blew it open with a six-run sixth. Reynolds ripped an RBI single, Gomes shot a two-run double to left, Stubbs tripled over Ellsbury’s head in center to score a pair, and Bourn singled home Stubbs.
“Obviously, the six runs in the sixth put things away for us,” Farrell said. “The biggest thing is to go out and put up a zero and maintain some momentum.
“They’re swinging the bat exceptionally well and we were unable to do that.”
Once the game started to get lopsided, the moment seemed smaller.
There was a tribute to Francona after the first inning. “A touch of class,” Farrell called it. Footage of fond memories flashed on the videoboard. Francona was gracious acknowledging fans and his former players.
“That video probably could have gone on for quite a while longer,” Farrell said. “Obviously he’s in a good place right now as well.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.