Terry Francona Calls Jacoby Ellsbury One of the Best Players in the Game, Downplays Importance of Winning AL East

August 31, 2011 – 8:30 am by Steven Cuce

Terry Francona and the Boston Red Sox team have owned the arch-rival New York Yankees so far this season. As of Tuesday night, the Sox were 10-2 against New York heading into their pivotal mid-week series. Boston, despite being expected to contend thanks to their strong pitching staff and the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the lineup in the off-season, didn’t quite start the year as they had envisioned. After a sluggish 2-9 start, Francona’s club has truly picked it up in the second half with strong pitching from John Lackey, Josh Beckett complemented and Jon Lester. Jacoby Ellsbury coming out of nowhere and having an All-Star season has helped things quite a bit for Boston as well, particularly because of Carl Crawford’s struggles and Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew going on the DL recently.

Terry Francona joined The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio New York to discuss the 2011 Boston Red Sox team being comparable to the championship teams of 2004/2007, his biggest concern for the Red Sox going into September, tempering his team’s enthusiasm when they take on the New York Yankees, first place in the American League East being that important to him and Jacoby Ellsbury being the surprise player of the year for the Red Sox.

How does this Red Sox team compare to the championship teams of 2004 and 2007? Do you see some of the same characteristics?

“You know what that is hard to say. We are not done. Shoot when it is all over you can kind of look back and think okay what went right? What didn’t go right? Right now we are right smack in the middle of it trying to be that team and you won’t know until it is over whether we were good or not. That’s part of the fun of it. We really like our team. We are not perfect. We’ve managed to survive some things and win some games just like the Yankees have, but we have a long way to go.”

You have a really good team, but what is the thing that concerns you the most going into September?

“I think everything. You get greedy. You have guys hitting .300 and you want them to hit .310. Health for sure. We got Kevin Youkilis coming off the disabled list. Hopefully in a couple of days J.D. Drew coming off. We are trying to keep the guys that have been out there everyday feeling good. Guys like Dustin Pedroia…players like that you can’t replace and Adrian Gonzalez. They are too important. We found out the hard way in the past, so we try to keep them out there and be productive, but also being healthy is huge.”

Do you have to sometimes temper your players enthusiasm for this series with the Yankees because it’s an important series, but not a mega important series?

“No our players are really good about that. I think they enjoy it. I think they know they are in for a long night because the games are long. I think they enjoy because they know there is a lot of attention placed on the games. The media and the fans love it, which is good. That is good for the game of baseball, but saying that for a loss we get one loss and for a win we get one win. I think you have to treat it like that. To place more importance on a game than another game I think for a manager…I think you have a chance to mess up. I don’t want to do that.”

Is first place in the division for the manager that important of a thing?

“I don’t know. I mean again you don’t know until it is over. I think the idea is because we are all competitive you want to win. Now saying that if you get into the last week of the season what do you sacrifice to win? Do you put a chance on pitchers you know you are going to lean on and pitch them again and not have your rotation lined up? They are things to talk about, but I think if you talk to anyone they want to win and so do we, but at the same time you try to keep track of the bigger picture also because it is important. Again in 2004 we won 98 games and we were the wild card. We didn’t back in, but we were the wild card because the Yankees won so many games, but because the Yankees closed us out with 4 or 5 games left we were able to set up our pitching and that really helped us get through the first round of the playoffs.”

How good has Jacoby Ellsbury been?

“He’s turned into one of the best players in the game. I think Theo Epstein is getting tired of me saying that because he knows Scott Boras is going to run right to arbitration, but this guy has turned into some kind of player. He kind of has played this year with a little chip on his shoulder like he has something to prove. He certainly has proven it.”

Listen to Terry Francona on 1050 ESPN New York here

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