CLEVELAND — Terry Francona has returned to Fenway Park since his high-profile ouster as Red Sox manager in 2011.
But when the Indians open a four-game series in Boston tonight, it will be Francona’s first trip back as the opposition.
“I’m sure I’ll have a lot of emotions,” said Francona, who brought Boston two World Series titles (2004, ’07) during his eight-year tenure. “The one thing I want to remind myself is that this game’s tough enough to play, and I don’t want our guys having extra baggage during that series. Whatever feelings I’m having, I’ll deal with them.
“I’m proud to go back there an Indian. I don’t want that to ever get lost in the shuffle.”
Francona wasn’t concerned with how he would be received by the Fenway faithful, but Indians ace Justin Masterson thinks it will be more than favorable.
“I think the reception will be tremendous,” said Masterson, who pitched for Francona in Boston from 2008-09. “Fans will be cheering, overjoyed and excited. He’s going to feel that sense of accomplishment and joy, because he revitalized the city by bringing Red Sox Nation back. He helped put it back on the map.”
The trip to Boston comes in the midst of a tough trek for the Indians, who began a 25-game stretch Tuesday that pitted them against the Tigers, Red Sox, Reds, Rays, Yankees, Rangers and Nationals. All owned records of .500 or better through Tuesday, with the Yankees and Rangers leading their respective divisions.
The first-place Indians entered Wednesday night leading the Central Division by 1½ games over the Tigers and with the best record in the majors (21-8) since April 20. But Cleveland has been here before the past two seasons, only to quickly fall out of contention.
“It’s too early,” closer Chris Perez said. “If this continues into August or September, you start buying in. You enjoy it while it’s happening, but there’s going to be some tough stretches.”
First baseman Nick Swisher will return from the paternity list for the second game of the series Friday in Boston. Swisher’s wife, actor JoAnna Garcia, gave birth to a baby girl Tuesday. When Swisher telephoned his manager with the news and Francona got emotional in what he called his “old age.”
“I caught myself laying in bed and tearing up, and I’m like, ‘What the (heck) is wrong with you,” Francona said.
Right-hander Brett Myers (right elbow tendinitis) allowed three runs on two hits (a home run) and four walks over five innings of a minor-league rehab assignment Wednesday for Double-A Akron. He was scheduled to log five innings.
Myers, who hasn’t pitched since April 19, is expected to make one more rehab appearance before leaving the disabled list. It is assumed he will take the rotation spot of right-hander Corey Kluber.
Jason Kipnis and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera struggled to start the season, and now it’s Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds — a pair that was red-hot at the outset of the year. Santana entered Wednesday batting.182 (12-for-66) with two homers and three RBIs in 19 games in May, while Reynolds was also at .182 for the month.
“It’s a rarity to have everyone hot at the same time, which is why you don’t juggle the lineup too much, in my opinion,” Francona said. “I think you line them up the way you think they should be and then you let them play.”
Zach McAllister (3-3, 2.65 ERA) opens the series in Boston tonight (7:10), opposing RHP Ryan Dempster (2-4, 4.27), while Masterson (7-2, 2.83) starts for the Indians on Friday (7:10 p.m.) against RHP John Lackey (2-4, 3.31).
Scott Kazmir (2-2, 6.35) goes Saturday (1:35 p.m.) against LHP Jon Lester (6-1, 3.15), while Kluber (3-3, 5.19) starts the series finale Sunday (1:35 p.m.) against LHP Felix Doubront (3-2, 5.61).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.