The man Theo Epstein hired in Boston to manage the team that would end the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 now awaits in Cleveland for the chance to spoil the Cubs’ and Epstein’s shot at ending another.
Epstein and Terry Francona went their separate ways after the Red Sox’ epic beer-and-chicken collapse in 2011, with Epstein embarking on an overhaul in Chicago and Francon landing with the Indians – who beat the Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS.
“I texted him right after they won,’’ said Epstein, who hired Francona over finalist Joe Maddon for the Red Sox job before the 2003 season. “He said he hoped to see me next week.”
It starts Tuesday night in Cleveland for Game 1. The Cubs trying to end a 108-year drought; the Indians, a 68-year drought.
“What we’re in for is what [Francona has] shown all postseason,” said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who was with Epstein and Francona in Boston. “He’s going to do everything he can to win that night’s game. Joe [Maddon] manages the same way, and I love that.”
The Cubs took the field Saturday for Game 6 with two rookies in the lineup for the first time this postseason, with Maddon electing to start right-handed hitting Albert Almora Jr. in $184 million Jason Heyward’s spot in right field.
Rookie Willson Contreras was behind the plate, catching Kyle Hendricks. Seven of the Cubs starters were 27 or younger.
“You look at [Clayton Kershaw’s] numbers, and they’re absurd against lefties,” Maddon said. “Albert’s swinging the bat well, and I like his defense a lot, so we chose to go with one more right-handed bat.”
Maddon said he texted Heyward – who’s just 2-for-28 this postseason – the night before about the decision.
“It’s never easy,” Maddon said. “I’m certain he’s not very happy with the whole thing. I wouldn’t be if I was him either.
“At the end of the day, man, you’ve just got to make some tough calls, some tough decisions.”
Epstein sees what the Cubs are doing to the city and its surroundings, whether he’s out walking his dog, out about town or at the ballpark.
“I love being in a city that’s playing October baseball where you can just feel everyone captivated by the ballclub,’’ he said. “Everyone walking around tired from staying up late, prioritizing baseball above all else. It’s a great phenomenon.’’
Maddon said he was struck by the seen outside the ballpark a few hours before Saturday’s game.
“Driving up Clark, it’s like a video game coming up there,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful. If they wanted to hand out jay-walking tickets today they’d make a lot of money. I mean, it’s one big frat party constantly, man.”
Blowing off History class
Jake Arrieta watched Game 6 in the unusual position of not knowing whether he’d be starting a game the following day. The last thing on Arrieta’s mind as he watched Game 6 was the Cubs’ storied history of failures.
Arrieta and everyone else in the dugout, for that matter.
“Obviously we know that it’s something that’s going to be talked about with the history of the organization, but it’s really not something we focus on at all,’’ Arrieta said. “So we just kind of disregard it and go out and play.”
Said Maddon: “Of course, you understand the moment and how everybody’s waiting on the birth. In the meantime, you’ve got to go about the day the same way.”