A three-minute span early last Thursday morning seems to have changed everything for Terry Francona, to have eclipsed his two World Series titles and eight straight winning seasons as Red Sox manager. At 12:02 a.m. Francona's club still appeared likely to avoid baseball's worst September collapse, and who knows what would have happened then? Another World Series? Another eight years in Boston for Francona, who is only 52? Then Orioles infielder Robert Andino slapped a game-winning single against closer Jonathan Papelbon, and three minutes later in Tampa the Rays' Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run against the Yankees, and Boston's hopes were snuffed out along with Francona's tenure. Whispers that the Sox would not pick up Francona's option were confirmed the following day, in what was cast as a mutual decision. "Nobody at the Red Sox blames [Francona] for what happened at the end of this season; we own that as an organization," said G.M. Theo Epstein. "Ultimately, he decided that there were certain things that needed to be done that he couldn't do after eight years here, and that this team would benefit from hearing a new voice." Francona spoke of his "frustrations at my inability to effectively reach the players," adding, "it was time for me to move on."
During Boston's 7--20 September, Francona seemed to have reached his hitters—the Red Sox scored 146 runs during the month, the third most in baseball. But even Uri Geller would have had trouble reaching that injury-riddled pitching staff. Still, Francona, who will be a top candidate for any managerial vacancy, will be fine. The Red Sox, who in 2012 will return a potent lineup and have the resources to revamp their rotation, will be fine. Due to those shocking three minutes last week, though, the parties just won't be fine together.
TERRY RENNA/AP (FRANCONA)
ON THE CHIN Though badly shaken by the way the season ended, both Francona and the Red Sox figure to rebound in 2012—just not together.