He hustled back to Boston on Monday in time to watch Jon Lester throw a no-hitter against the Royals at Fenway Park for a 7-0 win.
Francona only has one son, but of all the members of his team, Lester is probably the one who feels like a second.
So you can understand why Francona and Lester were both so emotional in an embrace shortly after the left-hander's masterpiece was complete.
"This probably isn't fair to say, but I feel like my son graduated and my [other] son threw a no-hitter," Francona said. "It couldn't happen to a better kid. It's probably selfish on my part to even say something like that, but I think it's obvious how we feel about this kid."
When Lester was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in late August 2006, Francona was crushed. But he didn't let Lester see that. Instead, he supported him as much as he could and also kept in frequent contact with Lester's parents.
After going through six chemotherapy treatments, Lester made it to Spring Training on time in 2007, though he wouldn't pitch in a Major League game until July. During that entire season, he formed a bond with his manager.
"Through everything I've been through, he's been like a second dad to me," Lester said. "Just being able to talk to him not as a manager but as a friend, he cares a lot about his players. It's not just about what you can do on the field, it's what type of person you are and he cares a lot about that."
When informed by the media that Lester referred to him as a second dad, Francona's eyes looked like they could have gotten moist again without much prodding.
"I take that as a huge compliment," Francona said. "He's a wonderful kid, not because he threw a no-hitter. He's a good kid because he's a good kid. We're proud of him all the time, but to watch him do that tonight was beyond words. I'm trying to put it in words, but it's hard because -- what a story. To see him do that, you feel like a proud parent. I know we have no right to say that, but it's probably how we feel."
Taking equal joy in the triumph was Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. He has spent hours with Lester, trying to help a young and promising pitcher gain consistency.
|"He's a wonderful kid, not because he threw a no-hitter. He's a good kid because he's a good kid. We're proud of him all the time, but to watch him do that tonight was beyond words. I'm trying to put it in words, but it's hard because -- what a story. To see him do that, you feel like a proud parent."|
|-- Manager Terry Francona, on Jon Lester|
Over the winter, Lester's name was involved in several trade talks with the Twins regarding left-handed ace Johan Santana. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein wound up hanging on to Lester and Santana went to the Mets.
Though anyone would welcome a pitcher like Santana, Farrell and Francona were two of the happiest people not to have to say good-bye to Lester.
"I think we all knew the talent and potential that Jon has and continues to become more consistent with," said Farrell. "But anytime you have young pitching of that talent, pitching is such a hard thing to acquire, particularly above-average Major League pitching talent, and to know that we're talking about two guys in their early 20s with long careers ahead of them, it certainly bodes well for not only the present but the future of a rotation that should be together for a long time."
As the ninth inning was unfolding, the magnitude of the moment started catching up to Francona. Not that he was alone.
"I looked up in the ninth and you're trying to keep your emotions in check, and I went to say something to John Farrell and he was being a big baby next to me," said Francona. "It made me feel a little bit better."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less