CLEVELAND - Of the many reasons the Indians won an AL wild-card spot with a stunning September surge, manager Terry Francona joked that it had nothing to do with his final days in Boston.
"We stayed away from chicken and beer," he cracked. "That helped."
Francona was typically jovial on Monday, a day after Cleveland completed a 10-0 run to finish the regular season and earn its first playoff appearance since 2007. As the Indians await the winner of the Texas-Tampa Bay tiebreaker, Francona discussed his team's superb chemistry, resiliency and a roster devoid of superstars but loaded with selfless players.
Francona also poked some fun at himself, alluding to his final days of the 2011 season with the Red Sox. Francona led the club to two World Series titles, but left after the team collapsed late in that season. The Red Sox clubhouse was later characterized as out of control with players drinking beer, eating chicken and playing video games during games.
After five months of ups and downs, the Indians put it all together and went 21-6 in September, playing error-free ball over the last 90 innings to reserve a place in October.
In his first season with Cleveland, Francona has already directed a 24-game turnaround and given skeptical Indians fans a reason to believe again.
From the first day of spring training, Francona has made the Indians feel like family.
"He's a gift to this game," said DH Jason Giambi, whose walk-off homer last week against the White Sox seemed to jump off a movie screen. "He loves his players. You want to play hard for him. You want to run through a wall for him just because of the type of person he is and the way he believes in you. What you're seeing is what happens when guys play for him."
As he does every day, Francona made the short commute from his downtown apartment to Progressive Field on his Vespa scooter as the Indians held an optional workout and a few players came in for treatment before Wednesday's winner-take-all game.
Francona reflected on Sunday's win in Minnesota, which was followed by the Indians turning their clubhouse into a playground. He vaguely remembers planting a kiss on Giambi, whom he claims is the team's MVP, and said he most enjoyed seeing owner Paul Dolan take part in the celebration.
"This team grew on me really quickly," Francona said. "It's pretty obvious, I'm pretty fond of this team. We could have lost the last couple games and I would have been very disappointed, but it wouldn't have changed my feelings for my team. It's not been a big secret that I love where I work. I respect my bosses. I care about them greatly."