Terry Francona returned Monday night to Fenway Park as the American League Central-leading Cleveland Indians faced the Boston Red Sox for the first time this season. Francona’s legacy as a manager continues to grow as his former players find more and more success as big-league managers.

Gabe Kapler, Dave Roberts and Kevin Cash all played under Francona and are now among the top young managers in the game. But none has had the success this year that first-year manager Alex Cora, who played under Francona from 2005-08, has enjoyed with Boston.

Cora recently said one of the most valuable lessons he learned from Francona was not to “chase wins.” You can’t manage every game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. Sometimes you need to take a step back to make a giant leap forward.

That, in part, is how pitcher Chris Sale wound up back on the 10-day disabled list over the weekend. His inflamed left shoulder continues to bother him and he’s off the active roster for the second time this month. He’ll wind up making one or two starts in August.

Last week we wrote about the luxury Cora has in resting his best players. This isn’t just a matter of rest; it’s a real injury that we should be somewhat concerned about. Yet make no mistake, if the Sox were playing for their playoff lives, Sale would have pitched Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Can an injury be a blessing? Any athlete will say no.

“To be honest, it’s quite miserable for me,” Sale said.

Sox fans were ready to join the misery. We thought Sale’s injury was behind him. He struck out 12 in his return and was deemed ready to go. He has the lowest ERA in the American League and the lowest opponents’ batting average in all of baseball.

“Not the most ideal situation,” Sale said.

Maybe it is.

Maybe this is exactly the rest Sale needs to be his best in October. The 6-foot-6, 180-pound left-hander has had a history of late-season fades. His September/October regular-season ERA is 3.78 with a .259 batting average and a 1.243 WHIP. Those numbers don’t compare well to his career statistics (2.88 ERA, .196 BA against, 1.030 WHIP).

Worse yet, he posted a 8.38 ERA in last year’s playoffs against Houston, his first postseason experience. He took two of Boston’s three losses (one as a starter, one in relief) in the four-game elimination at the hands of the eventual champs.

Those numbers would certainly seem to indicate that Sale was worn down by the end of the season. So this forced trip to the DL – his second in the past month – might give him just enough rest to be ready for the stretch run.

“This guy’s very important to what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cora said, “and if he needs to skip one, two, three – whatever – we’re willing to do that. He’ll be back.”

It’s certainly a lot easier for Cora to say that with his team’s separation from the pack. You’ll see even more rest come September when rosters expand to 40 men. Minor leaguers will start throwing innings as the team lines itself up for October.

The Sox will be chasing rest, not wins. That’s why they could start Hector Velazquez in the 125th game of the regular season against the Rays.

Velazquez pitched well in a 2-0 loss Sunday at Fenway Park. Losing’s never good, but it’s far more important that Sale be ready to face the Indians – or Yankees, Astros or A’s – in the postseason.

“I’m going to keep my chin up,” Sale said. “I’m on the best team that’s ever walked the planet.”

It won’t be remembered that way if the Sox don’t win in October. They won’t be judged by 100 or more wins in the regular season. The expectations coming into the season were high. They’ve only gotten higher as the team ran roughshod over major league competition.

This team will be judged on how close it comes to winning 11 more games in October. Those are the wins this team must chase.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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