Knees will be a knocking

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

Busch or bust Stadium?

Terry Francona was among the National League leaders with a .321 average, when he arrived at Busch on July 16, 1982.

Francona, an outfielder with the Montreal Expos, leaped for a drive off the bat of third baseman Julio Gonzalez with two out in the seventh inning. When he came down his right foot caught in a seam of the old artificial turf and he blew out his knee. It was painful to watch and season-ending surgery was next.

Tonight, Francona, the Boston Red Sox manager, will exchange lineup cards with St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa before Game 3 of the best-of-seven World Series, with his Sox leading 2-0.

He hopes this Busch Stadium visit does not have the same affect on his managing career as the 1982 trip did on his playing career.

Charlie Lea notched his belt to move to 5-2 as Montreal picked up an 8-3 win over the Cardinals, but the Expos lost their left fielder. A second knee surgery, in 1984, didn't help. Francona was never the same.

Francona, now 45, has matured since the days when he was a frisky young outfielder who used to hoot at tour guides at Olympic Stadium during early hitting sessions.

And hopefully he has matured since the end of the 1985 season when, on the final day of the season for the Expos, a Montreal-bound Air Canada charter sat delayed at the gate. When the pre-flight announcements began in both official languages Francona pulled out a $2 Canadian bill, lit it on fire and sang O Canada.

"That was a mistake," Francona said a few years ago when he was managing the Philadelphia Phillies.

While Boston general manager Theo Epstein pulls the strings, Francona deserves credit for keeping the merry band of Sox headed in the same direction ... even as ground balls go through their legs.

Before Game 2 of the American League championship series when Curt Schilling's doctor showed it was Epstein, not Francona, who answered questions of if, or when, Schilling would pitch again.

Could you see managers Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams, Sparky Anderson or Tony La Russa have their GMs answer about when a starter would start?

Francona gets along with a self-deprecating approach. Asked about Cards manager La Russa trying to acquire him when he was a player, he replied: "My initial thoughts are, if he tried to acquire me, he's not nearly as good of a manager as I thought he was."

Questioned about the approach of GM Epstein, Francona said: "I think our philosophies are really a lot similar. The one big difference is our SAT scores."

Against the Yanks he was asked if he'd seen a more dangerous three-four combination than Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, the manager replied: "Not since Francona and Brad Mills."

Mills had 43 hits in parts of four seasons with the Expos. Francona, however, was nicknamed "Mandrake" by Montreal's Pete Rose in 1984 for the ability to slap the ball the other way, plunk tennis-like lobs into shallow centre and foul a pitch off when it looked as if it was already in the catcher's mitt.

He sat atop the NL batting race with a .346 average 58 games into the 1984 season when on June 14 he dribbled a ground ball up the first base line against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

John Tudor fielded the ball and was in the base path. It was an automatic out. Francona tried to deke and his left knee cracked so loudly you could hear it in the press box, even thought there were 30,657 fans there. Another season-ending surgery.

Tonight Francona will stay off the warning track in left and he'll stay out of the first-base line.

In fact, he hopes he never even has to visit the mound.


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