Manager of October: Francona takes Indians within one win of Series title

CHICAGO — Terry Francona is on the verge of ending another long World Series drought.

Call him Mgr. October.

Cleveland’s maestro of a manager, who has pushed all the right buttons this season and especially over the past few weeks, moved closer to capturing his third Series title as the Indians beat the Chicago Cubs 7-2 in Game 4 on Saturday night to take a 3-1 lead.

Francona is the one who guided the Boston Red Sox around the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, helping them to their first title in 86 years. He led them to another three years later.

And now he’s got the resilient Indians on the edge of taking their first World Series in 68 years.

The 57-year-old would never take any credit for Cleveland’s success, but the Indians wouldn’t be where they are if not for Francona, who improved to 11-1 in World Series games.

The guy everyone calls Tito — his dad’s name — claims he doesn’t have a crystal ball. But he certainly seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to setting his lineup, pulling pitchers at just the right time and keeping his players focused.

Following Cleveland’s 1-0 victory in Game 3, Francona made the difficult decision of not starting first baseman Mike Napoli in Game 4.

“He’s like the heart and soul of our team,” Francona said beforehand. “It bothers me to sit him, a lot.”

Francona played Carlos Santana at first instead, and the move panned out when he homered leading off the second inning against John Lackey. Francona has been forced to be creative with his lineup during the three games at Wrigley Field, where the Indians have had to play by National League rules and couldn’t use their designated hitter.

He took a risk by starting Santana in left field for Game 3 even though the former catcher had played just four innings in his career in left. It worked, though, as Santana caught the only ball hit his way on a night when the wind was blowing out in Wrigley.

“That was probably the funnest moment of the game,” Francona said of Santana’s catch in the first. “I was going crazy in the dugout. Then I thought I better cool it because there might be another one that finds him.”

None did, and Francona made several more astute moves.