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Indians have right man at the helm in Francona

ARLINGTON -- The Indians had just lost their seventh straight game on Sunday afternoon when their manager decided it was time to speak up.

Terry Francona told his players that he believed in them when they were winning 18 of 22 games earlier this season and that he still believed in them in these tough times.


The Indians lost their eighth straight game on Monday night, a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Rangers. This one looked like a lot of the others -- a couple of bad pitches here, an inability to deliver offensively there.

The thing that makes it so difficult to fix is that it's not just one guy. It's an assortment of slumps, injuries and, in some cases, rotten luck.

"We're just in a rut," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "We never get blown out. We're not a good team yet, but when you become a good team, you learn how to do those little things. You win those 2-1 and 4-3 games. We've got to grow as a team."

Overall, the Indians have lost 16 of 20. On May 20 they had the fourth-best record in all of baseball, at 26-17. Now, at 30-33, they're 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central.

So for the first time, Francona is being tested in his new gig. Every manager gets similar tests, and there's no textbook on how to handle it. When does he say something? What does he say?

"Work hard and grind," Francona said. "There isn't a magic potion. We're going to find out a lot about ourselves right now. I guess that's part of why I feel OK about this -- because I think we have the guys in there who will fight through this and come through it. It's not easy. It's not a lot of fun. But I believe in those guys in that room, and I believe in us collectively. We'll figure out a way to fight through it."

Managers reveal more of themselves in bad times than in good. When a team is going good, it's easy to stay positive and tell 'em how much you love 'em. It's when things aren't going so good that players find out what their manager is really like. Will he have their backs? Will he throw them under the bus to reporters?

"He stays the same," Bourn said. "He lets us know he believes in us. He wants us to keep on pushing, and he's going to be with us the whole way. It's easy when it's going good. When we were rolling, we weren't thinking. We were just playing.

"Now we're being tested. You've just got to keep battling. You can't give in. You can't quit. That's true in any sport. There's going to be failure. There's going to be times you're tested."

In an era when managers can study reams of data to assist with lineups and pitching changes and all that stuff, there's nothing that can replace the human touch of a skipper who can somehow get his guys to play with a consistent and cohesive effort.

And those things are why baseball people -- especially those who've played for him -- absolutely love Terry Francona. He's unwavering in his approach and has been for virtually all of his 13 years as a Major League manager.

All he asks in return is that his players give a maximum effort and take care of details. Having managed 2,007 games in 13 seasons for the Phillies, Red Sox and Indians, he has come to understand what's important.

"He's going to be that guy you can fall back on," second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He's not going to start pointing fingers. He's not going to throw anyone under the bus. If you do something that costs us a game, it's the team that lost the game."

Francona believes that it's about showing his guys the same face every single day.

"Be consistent," he said. "I think whatever personality you have, you have to stay that way. If you're a yeller, you yell. You just have to be consistent. It's a long year. If you go up and down, you're asking your team to do the same thing."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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