The Indians are going to the World Series; Terry Francona is going to Cooperstown

TORONTO When I arrived in Philadelphia for college in the fall of 1998, the Phillies were playing out the string ona 75-87 season, their fourth straight year with a losing record, and there wasn’tmuch reason to believe things were getting any better. After two more lousy years, including 97 lo ses in 2000, the manager got canned, and nobody in town really had much of a case that it was the wrong decision.The Phillies got better under Larry Bowa, starting on the path that led them toward winning the World Series under Charlie Manuel in 2008. But all these years later, it sure looks like the manager they let go after 2000 is going to be a Hall of Famer.MORE: SN’s midseason manager rankingsTerry Francona was the manager who broke the 86-year Curse of the Bambino in Boston in 2004, piloting the Red Sox back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS the only time that hasbeen done in baseball history. Francona won another title with the Red Sox in 2007and now is headed back to the World Series with Cleveland, looking to break a championship drought that’s a mere 68 years.Cleveland’s 3-0 win over Toronto in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday wrapped up a third pennant for Francona as a manager, and of the 32 previous skippers to accomplish that, the only ones not in the Hall of Fame are Bruce Bochy (who will be), Charlie Grimm (who never won a World Series), Ralph Houk (whose omi sion is baffling), Jim Leyland (who probably will be) and Jim Mutrie (who managed in the 19th century).MORE: Game 5 takeaways| SN’s Game CenterFrancona can for-sure punch his ticket to Cooperstown by winning four more games, as the only manager with three World Series victories not currently enshrined is Bochy, for the obvious reason that he’s still active. Something that Francona has in common with Bochy is the total trust of his team, which he fully reciprocates.Tito does such a good job of setting the tone in the clubhouse, said Andrew Miller, the MVP of the ALCS who played for Francona in Boston and joined Cleveland in trade deadline deal that has paid off in spades. It’s loose. That’s his style. I think the players in a sense run it. It doesn’t mean we’re not prepared, it doesn’t mean we’re not working hard. There’s card games, there’s cribbage all over the place. Guys are loose. The trash talking is kind of back and forth, but guys are prepared at the same time and we work really hard. And it shows. It pays off. We wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case. It’s exceptional and he’s special.MORE: Must-see ALCS photosA manager’s biggest job is handling a clubhouse of 25 highly competitive men, getting them on the same page to achieve a common goal. Secondary to that is the in-game strategy that is fodder for Twitter and talk radio. Francona excels at both, and it showed with the way he handled his rookie starting pitcher in Game 5, left-hander Ryan Merritt, who took the mound against the Blue Jays with only 11 previous innings of major league experience.He probably, two hours, three hours before the game just pulled me into the office, Merritt said. He said, ‘Hey, no matter what, good or bad, when you go out there, we’re behind you.’ He said, ‘I’m behind you. Your team is behind you. Everybody is behind you. So just go out and be yourself, control what you can control, and just have fun, just enjoy it.’MORE: Get Cleveland AL championship gearSaid Francona, before the game: He knows he’s not alone out there. He’s got us in the dugout and hopefully that rea sures him a little bit. This start isn’t going to define his career. It would sure help us win a game if he pitches well. I think his biggest goal for today is to be himself and not try to let, whether it’s Carlton Fisk Jersey nerves or (anything else) get in the way of who he is. And then you take what happens.What happened was 49 pitches of brilliance, 4 1/3innings of two-hit ball that represented all Cleveland needed to get to the dominant bullpen that Francona has marshaled so well since August. Bryan Shaw, Miller and Cody Allen combined for the final 14 outs of the six-hitter.MORE: Kipnis, teammates troll Joey Bats over ‘boots’ commentWhen Miller came over from the Yankees, the a sumption was that he was going to Cleveland to supplant Allen as closer. Instead, Francona deployed Miller as a fireman, bringing back a piece of the game that had been lost as modern managers set up their relief corps in service of saves rather than having their best pitchers get the most important outs of games.If the guys behind Miller don’t step up and get outs, then his innings are for naught, said pitching coach Mickey Callaway. They did a tremendous job, the whole bullpen.It takes the players to make the manager look good, but the manager has to put the players in position to be their best. Francona has done that, and he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame because of the succe s that has followed.