Francona feels 'a little awkward' in first visit with Red Sox

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Francona feels 'a little awkward' in first visit with Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Terry Francona stood in front of the home dugout at Jet Blue Park Thursday afternoon and answered questions from reporters as his former players took batting practice, there was no escaping the obvious.

"It's a little awkward for me,'' acknowledged Francona.

Francona was at the ballpark in his new role as ESPN color analyst, getting ready for a telecast which involved the Red Sox, the team he managed for the previous eight seasons.
"Everything right now is a little different,'' said Francona. "If I sat here and said, 'Yeah, this is just another day at the office . . .', that wouldn't be true. I'm excited to do the game. But I'll be glad when the day is over.''

In his first few weeks as a professional broadcaster, Francona is still learning on the job.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can," he said. "It's the same thing as being a manager -- you wake up and try to be prepared. It's certainly different. But I've enjoyed it.''

In his new role, he said he'll be careful about what he says on the air -- about the Red Sox and others.

"I don't think I've ever set out to be critical of anybody,'' he said. "I think there's a way to say what's going on without being a bad person. I'll just be myself.''

Francona took some ribbing from reporters who heard that, while driving colleagues Dan Shulman and Claire Smith to dinner Wednesday night, he ran out of gas and. He and Shulman had to push the car down an off-ramp from Interstate I-75.

Asked to put his departure from the Red Sox last fall into perspective, Francona said: "When you go 7-20 in September, you open yourself up to criticism. You probably deserve to be criticized. I thought I tried to take some responsibility in that last press conference. I thought there things that needed to be done and it wasn't necessarily my voice that was doing the best job at that point. I thought I was pretty open and honest about that.

"What happened after that (including a story in the Boston Globe that divulged some off-field issues), hurt me a lot. It probably always will. But the best thing to do is try to move on. But I spent eight years there and we did a lot of good stuff. So that hurt me a little bit.''

In analyzing the American League East race, Francona said the season would "come down to whatever pitching staff stays the healthiest . . . That's a lot of good teams in one division.''

Francona still harbors a desire to return to the dugout, but won't rush back for any opportunity.

"My passion is being on the field,'' he said. "But I think it will be really healthy for me to step back and look at baseball without as much emotion. I think that will be good for me. I was pretty worn down by the end of last year.

"There's not too many managing jobs out there. But if it ever comes about and it makes sense, I would certainly (consider it). But it would have to make sense. I don't want to manage just for the sake of managing. I said that last time after being fired in Philadelphia. But I got this Red Sox job and it was a good one and it lasted a long time."

Saturday's Red Sox-Blue Jays lineups: E-Rod on mound, Bogaerts back to 2-hole

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Saturday's Red Sox-Blue Jays lineups: E-Rod on mound, Bogaerts back to 2-hole

The Red Sox (93-67) look to close in on the No. 2 seed in the A.L. playoffs and home-field advantage in the Division Series with the Cleveland Indians (92-67) with a victory over the Toronto Blue Jays tonight at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox send left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (3-7, 4.68 ERA) to the mound against left-hander J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.20). Rodriguez is expected to pitch either Game 3 or 4 of the Division Series against the Indians next week.

If both teams finish with 94 wins, the Red Sox hold the tiebreaker over the Indians, based on Boston winning the season series, 4-2. The Indians may have to play a makeup game Monday with the Detroit Tigers.

The Jays are a game behind the Baltimore Orioles for the top A.L. wild-card spot and hold a half-game lead over the Detroit Tigers for the second wild-card spot. 

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts moves back to his customary No. 2 spot in the batting order after hitting sixth Friday night. Right-handed hitting Aaron Hill is at third base and Christian Vazquez catches for Boston.

There will be the second of three ceremonies this weekend to honor retiring Red Sox DH David Ortiz before the game.  

The lineups:

RED SOX
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Aaron Hill 3B
Christian Vazquez C
---
Eduardo Rodriguez LHP

BLUE JAYS
Devon Travis 2B
Josh Donaldson 3B
Edwin Encarnacion 1B
Jose Bautista DH
Russell Martin C
Troy Tulowitzki SS
Melvin Upton LF
Kevin Pillar CF
Ezequiel Carrera RF
---
J.A. Happ LHP 

Curran's Patriots-Bills preview

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Curran's Patriots-Bills preview

Click here for the gallery.

FOXBORO  – Four quarters left in Tom Brady’s suspension, an undetermined (but also dwindling) number of days remaining in Rex Ryan’s tenure as a head coach, this game is intriguing for a lot of reasons. The Patriots can close out a remarkable quarter-season performance without Brady and put him back in the driver’s seat with a three-game edge over the Bills simply by taking out Rex. How they manage that – and which quarterback manages that – is the question that’s swirled all week.
 
 
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
 
Traditionally, the Patriots have thrown over and around the Bills’ front-seven with great success. Tom Brady’s good at that. Jimmy Garoppolo, with a bad shoulder, or Jacoby Brissett, with limited experience, may not be able to pull off the same act. Which means this could be a day for LeGarrette Blount who so far is leading the league in rushing. Many of those yards have come at the closeout juncture of games. This week, he may asked to do the damage early. The Bills have allowed five touchdowns on the grounds this season but only 3.4 yards per carry.
 
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
 
Without Sammy Watkins and dealing with issues at left tackle, the Bills are going to have to get a productive, 25-to-30-touch game out of running back LeSean McCoy. He’s handled the ball 59 times so far in three games (11 catches) and has been by far the focal point of the Bills offense. But with the Patriots having the chance to fixate on McCoy, Buffalo and newly-minted offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn better have a backup plan if and when the Patriots send multiple players to dog him. The Bills’ will be in a position where it’s on Tyrod Taylor to figure something out. The Patriots aren’t going to aggressively rush him. If the rush gets past him, it was done by mistake. Force Taylor to be a passer, find Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and  ailing tight end Charles Clay. Meanwhile, the Patriots figure to have Donta Hightower back to help with quarterbacking the defense. The Patriots are in a position defensively to really put the screws to a Bills team that doesn’t seem to have a lot of options.
 
THE KICKING GAME
 
Old friend Brandon Tate is the Bills’ return guy on both punts and kickoffs. He’ll get a good test from the Patriots special teams corps which has been a major story this season. Ryan Allen had a career game last week against Houston with six punts inside the 20 and one sitting on the 20. There were no return yards. The Patriots kick coverage created two turnovers last game against Houston and hasn’t allowed a return past the 25.
 
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
QUESTIONABLE: QB Jacoby Brissett (thumb), QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder), T Marcus Cannon (calf), G Jonathan Cooper (foot), LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder), TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), LB Dont’a Hightower (knee), CB Eric Rowe
 
BILLS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: WR Sammy Watkins (foot), T Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle), C Patrick Lewis (knee) and WR Greg Salas (groin) QUESTIONABLE: S Colt Anderson (foot), TE Charles Clay (knee), CB Ronald Darby (hamstring), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder), S Jonathan Meeks(foot) and S Aaron Williams (ankle)
 
GAME WITHIN THE GAME  

The speed with which Buffalo adjusts to the Patriots offensive game plan and whether or not the Patriots have an adjustment to the adjustment. The uncertainty of the Patriots quarterback situation has been a distraction for the Bills and Rex Ryan this week and – given the Bills leaky pass defense – how Buffalo decides to deploy will matter a lot depending on who’s at quarterback.
 
BILLS GOTTA STOP
 
Jannyris Edeldolagan. That’s just an amalgamation of the three wideouts of similar talent, pallor and quickness that kill defenses in the receiver shell game the Patriots play every week. Just when a defense thinks it’s got it figured out on a key third down and has set itself to take away Edelman, for instance, the dagger gets inserted by Amendola or Hogan. It’s like a shell game.
 
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
 
LeSean McCoy. That’s the whole damn game. Cuz you. Don’t wanna mess with Shady. Cuz Shady. Will … cause big problems.
 
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
 
“I fly around every day. You can’t land this jet, you know what I’m saying? It’s like having a private plane, wherever I want to go, I just go. I don’t have to worry about no jet fuel. I would say Gatorade but they don’t sponsor me so I’ll just go get me some good ole’ something to drink, and Gatorade can have the plug.” – Martellus Bennett, Patriots tight end, on the team flying around in September.
 
THAT SUMS IT UP BILLS STYLE
 
“It’s more of a ‘this is still a game.’ It’s a billion dollar industry and things but it’s still a game and you’ve got to be true to yourself and I’m true to myself. To me it’s just a thing where, you know, I enjoy Belichick’s press conferences and everything else because he’s true to himself and he does a great job. It’s pretty funny to me because you guys can never get anything out of him and I just think it’s great. It’s kind of funny that way. I pulled it knowing that every question is going to be about who’s the quarterback and all that. One thing I know for sure is that Tom Brady is not the quarterback and I feel good about that.” – Simple Rex, after being asked why he mimicked Bill Belichick during his week-opening press conference
 
THE WINNER IS...
 
Patriots 23, Bills 13