Terry Francona done in Boston

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona argues with umpire Larry Vanover (R) during a break in play against the Toronto Blue Jays during the seventh inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Toronto, in this file image from July 10, 2010. Francona’s eight-year run as Red Sox manager ended September 30, 2011 when the team announced he was not returning next season. Francona, nicknamed Tito, led the Red Sox to the World Series title in 2004 — ending a championship drought dating back to 1918 – and again in 2007, but speculation about his future increased after the Red Sox missed this season’s playoffs after a dramatic late season collapse. Picture taken July 10, 2010. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files (CANADA – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

I’m not really sure what to make of this. Terry Francona won two World Series titles, and it seems silly to get rid of a great manager after one epic collapse. On the other hand, Francona seems exhausted, and maybe he didn’t want to come back that badly.

That said, I think the Boston owners are making a mistake here. It’s hard to make rational decisions one day after such an emotional end to the season. They all might have reached the same decision a week from now, but taking some time to think about this makes sense to me.

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Rays to Red Sox: ‘Welcome back to earth’

As Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe notes, the Tampa Bay Rays have brought the Boston Red Sox and their fans crashing back to earth after crushing the BoSox 9-1 to take a 2-1 ALCS lead.

Tampa Bay RaysWe were kings of the world, universally hated by sports fans across the land. Life was a nonstop sequence of banner hoistings and ring celebrations. We grew arrogant, cocky, entitled.

And the Red Sox, winners of two of the last four World Series and favorites to repeat in the fall of 2008, find themselves trailing the once-laughable Tampa Bay Rays, two games to one, in the American League Championship Series. The Rays, deemed not ready for prime time playoffs by David Ortiz just a couple of days ago, routed the indomitable Jon Lester, 9-1, at Fenway Park yesterday. Who’s the scaredy cat now?

This is not to overreact to the Red Sox’ plight. The Sox last year trailed the Indians, 3-1, in the ALCS, then roared back to win the next three and sweep the Rockies in the World Series.

But yesterday’s lopsided loss to the Rays stunned a Nation still reeling from the Patriots’ Sunday night debacle in San Diego. Suddenly Big Papi is Big Popup. Boy Wonder Jacoby Ellsbury is 0 for his last 20 and has fans begging for Coco Crisp. Josh Beckett, Mr. October of this century, is serving more meatballs than Bertucci’s. Jason Varitek looks as though he might calcify in mid-swing. Terry Francona has forfeited his hardball Mensa membership and is hearing words he never heard in the Bible.

Upton’s blow was one of two homers in the third, and the Rays weren’t done hitting tape-measure shots. Boston fans hadn’t seen this many long bombs since Sunday night every time Philip Rivers looked in the direction of Deltha O’Neal. Tampa tattooed the Sox for four homers in Game 3, giving Joe Maddon’s Way Back Warriors seven home runs and 18 runs in two games. Ouch.

As Shaughnessy points out, the Red Sox have been down before and battled back. But it’s hard not to chuckle a bit when the big bad “Red Sox Nation” get their asses handed to them at Fenway when a club making its first postseason appearance in the history of their franchise. Still, this series is far from over and Lester had been fantastic before Game 3. I wouldn’t bet against the Sox making the series even in Game 4.

It’s all about the pitching

Jonathan Papelbon“Momentum is always as strong as your starting pitcher is the next day.”
– Joe Maddon

Leave it to the well-read Rays manger to come up with such a profound statement. Chances are this saying is nailed up in his teams’ clubhouse alongside others from the likes of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Maddon’s right, and he’s used this pitching-first philosophy to propel his team into the ALCS.

If there’s one quality that ties each of the remaining four teams together, it’s that each of them can hit. They each have at least two big bats, lead-off men that can hit for average, and a bottom of the order that can consistently do some damage. When teams are this evenly matched at the plate, it’s often a single blunder on the part of a pitcher that can decide a game. As we’ve seen in the Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox, it comes down to the pitching. Both teams boasted fabulous rotations and excellent hitting, but it was the Red Sox middle relief and closer that really won the games.

Read the rest after the jump...

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