Guardians, Terry Francona outclassed White Sox all season

I don’t want to overreact here, but I’m beginning to suspect the White Sox might not win their division after all.

Take all the time you need to process that bombshell.

So much has gone wrong with the Sox — free-agent misses, a parade of injuries, a team-wide power outage, repeated blunders on the field — that almost no one escapes blame. There’s a bunch of it, of course, for Tony La Russa, who will miss the rest of a lost season as he tends to his health. He never got these Sox to play for him, a very bad look for all involved.

We could debate to what extent the Sox gave away the division and to what extent the Guardians took it, but a Guardians edge that has been unmistakable throughout the season is how hard they play for their manager, Terry Francona.

“We would all run through a brick wall for him,” outfielder Myles Straw said. “And you know what? He would do the same for us. That’s why we are where we are, because we get to play for him. It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable. It’s an honor to show up and play for him every day.”

In his 22nd season as a major league manager — and his 10th in Cleveland — Francona, 63, is as good as ever, and that includes his two World Series years in Boston and his two American League manager of the year campaigns in Cleveland. He has squeezed more from the youngest team in baseball than anyone imagined he could.

Veteran reliever Bryan Shaw admits he had his own doubts about how good such a young team would be. In his seventh season playing for Francona, he has been “blown away” by the impact the skipper has had during a period of heavy roster transition.

“He’s the staple here,” Shaw said. “Our brand of baseball starts with him. Everything we’ve done on the field is a testament to him. Without him, there’s zero chance this group gets to the point we’re at.”

Terrific rookie Steven Kwan had his come-to-Tito moment early this season after an easy win against the Twins during which he’d failed to take an extra base he could’ve reached had he been more alert. Francona called the outfielder into his office and said, “That won’t be happening again.”

“And he was right,’ ” Kwan said. “It was just blunt honesty, and that’s Tito. He’s not here to play games. If he’s talking, we’re listening to every word. I’d never question him. We never question him.”

Talk about a manager who’s fully in charge.


Is the Cubs’ season over or are they still playing? I keep losing track. …

North Carolina took the opening kickoff, drove 76 yards in 12 plays and grabbed an easy-peasy 7-0 lead on Notre Dame, and I started counting potential Irish losses, an old habit. Five? Six? Seven?

A happy Pyne and Freeman at UNC.

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

But I was wrong about pretty much everything in college football Saturday, as anyone who used my picks for recreational purposes knows all too well.

Instead, the Irish, on the way to winning 45-32, took charge of the game with a second quarter that had to mean a lot to coach Marcus Freeman and quarterback Drew Pyne, especially. Four straight drives totaling 276 yards and adding up to 24 points? Impressive. …

College football keeps eating itself alive when it comes to protecting rivalries. Just the latest example: The annual “Bedlam” series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will go away when Oklahoma moves to the SEC in 2025. There’s no such thing as a more charged football environment than Boone Pickens Stadium when the Sooners are in Stillwater. What a bummer. …

The bar for thoughtfulness has been set by Louisiana Tech’s football team, which sent letters — one from each and every player — to Clemson star defensive lineman Bryan Bresee, who lost his 15-year-old sister, Ella, to cancer. …

A gambling site emailed odds on the first NFL quarterback to be benched this season. The Bears’ Justin Fields was listed as the sixth-likeliest. We’re not buying that for a second, are we? …

After hitting his 700th home run, Albert Pujols can stop saying he dislikes the nickname “El Hombre” because it’s disrespectful to Stan “The Man” Musial. One assumes Musial would have been delighted to have the company.


Judge is chasing history.

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Red Sox at Yankees (7:08 p.m. Sunday, ESPN): Aaron Judge wouldn’t dare miss this prime-time chance to hit No. 61, would he? If he comes through, Shohei Ohtani should have to deliver the MVP award himself.

“Yankees-Dodgers: An Uncivil War” (8 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN): Let’s go back to 1977 and ’78, when the Bombers won back-to-back World Series against an outstanding opponent that really, truly couldn’t stand them. We’re sure Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Dusty Baker and pals have almost gotten over it by now.

“Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” (9 p.m. Tuesday, HBO): An investigation into the World Anti-Doping Agency has revealed — shocker alert — a repeated, ongoing failure to police international sports for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Follow the damn money, people.


From emailer Mark:

“This White Sox rebuild started six years ago, and this is the third year of the ‘contention window.’ It’s not even on the same planet as the Astros’ and Cubs’ rebuilds, is it?”

The same planet? Sure. The same ballpark? Definitely not. The Sox acquired a bunch of good prospects, took a couple of big swings with Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal, traded for a serious dude in Lance Lynn. In an alternate universe, it could have worked. But we’re still waiting for a postseason series victory that — just imagine — might never come.


Blackhawks training camp: What did Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane do to deserve this punishment?

Bears-Texans: What did the rest of us do to deserve this punishment?

Faded superpowers: Middle Tennessee State 45, Miami 31 was a real head-turner of a score. The Hurricanes should trade rosters with Nebraska just to see if anyone notices.

Mel Tucker: Two straight lopsided losses for Michigan State’s $95 million man. Hey, didn’t he used to work for the Bears?

Miguel Cairo: La Russa could’ve managed this terrible homestand in his sleep.

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