August 21, 2014

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ALCS: Crossovers an interesting sidelight to Indians-Red Sox series

BOSTON— Julio Lugo has one of Manny Ramirez’s baseball cards hanging by his locker, only there’s something out of place: The slugger is wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform.
It’s Ramirez, all right, the same guy now batting cleanup for Boston. He played his first 6½ years for the Indians before signing with the Red Sox in 2000.
He’s not the only one who put on a Cleveland cap before switching to a hat with the traditional B. Fact is, there’s a lot of crossover between the teams going into their AL championship series matchup starting Friday night at Fenway Park.
Boston center fielder Coco Crisp made his major league debut for the Indians and played his first 2½ seasons with them. Julian Tavarez spent parts of four seasons in Cleveland. Alex Cora spent half a season there.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell were teammates on the Indians in 1988 and went on to work in the front office.
“Believe me when I say this: I don’t want them to beat us. I think that’s stating the obvious,” Francona said. “But there are some people over there that I am really close to. … There’s nothing wrong with going up against people that you really have a lot of respect for. Sometimes it makes you want to win more.”
Even though the two teams don’t have the long-seething rivalry of the Red Sox and Yankees, they are plenty familiar with each other.
Cleveland manager Eric Wedge was a Red Sox prospect who played 27 games for Boston in 1992 before he was left unprotected in the expansion draft and picked by the Colorado Rockies. He played down any significance of facing Boston this October.
“What’s special to me is these guys having the right to go to the ALCS and compete for a spot in the World Series,” Wedge said.
Trot Nixon played his entire career in the Red Sox organization before signing with Cleveland last offseason. Nixon hit .357 in the 2004 World Series when Boston ended its 86-year title drought.
“This is where he started his career. He made his career in Boston,” Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis said before yet another off-day workout Wednesday. “Now he’s in another place. I’d bet in his mind, it’s pretty cool: A year removed, and he gets to come back to Fenway and play the Red Sox.”
Nixon drew a big ovation when he returned to Fenway with the Indians. His wife, Kathryn, received an award from the Jimmy Fund for the couple’s charitable work and threw out the first pitch.
Francona wouldn’t mind if Nixon gets another big hand — before his at-bat, not after it.
“If he’s taking too many more, it means he’s on base way too much,” the Red Sox manager said.
Crisp made his major league debut with Cleveland, and played his first 2½ seasons there. He came to the Red Sox in 2006 after they let Johnny Damon leave for free agency, but his first season in Boston was slowed by a broken finger that kept him from ever putting everything together at once.
“We really never got to see what we’re seeing this year,” Francona said.
This season, Crisp batted .268 with a career-high 28 stolen bases while getting to more balls per game than any other outfielder in the majors.
“It’s kind of surprising when he doesn’t get to something,” Francona said. “That’s probably not fair, but he looks like he’s going to catch everything.”
Francona spent some time in Cleveland himself.
After getting fired from his four-year stint as Philadelphia Phillies manager, Francona got a job in 2001 as special assistant to Indians general manager John Hart. There, Francona worked closely with assistant GM Mark Shapiro, who took over the top job when Hart left.
When the Indians eliminated the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, Francona sent off a text message. Shapiro wrote back about five minutes later.
“I only had a one-year window to look at it, but there are some pretty awesome people over there,” Francona said. “I don’t think it’s a fluke they’ve gotten where they are.”
Farrell spent five years as the Indians’ director of player development before getting back into uniform with the Red Sox this year. He worked with many of the current Cleveland players — an insight that helped the Red Sox compile a scouting report in the regular season.
It also gave him a sense of pride.
“I think any time you’ve had some interactions with individual players, you always want to pull for them and see them go and do well,” Farrell said.
Francona, who played for five teams during a 10-year career, was a second-generation Indian: His father played for Cleveland and had his best year there in 1959, when Terry was born and Tito Francona reached career highs with a .363 average and 20 homers.
The elder Francona played six years with the Indians — his longest stay in one place during a 15-year career with nine teams.
Does that add to any feelings the younger Francona might have for the place?
“If that were the case, it would be that way for every team,” the Red Sox manager said. “He played for half of them.”