Francona got a good, albeit brief, look at the Indians in 2001 before leaving for a bench coach job with Texas the next year.
"They had to take a few steps back from the teams they had in the late '90s," Francona said. "Their payroll got pared back. They tried to build within, and I mean the whole organization. The way they did things was pretty impressive, from feeding the [Class] A ball kids after games to just trying to create an atmosphere where people really mean something."
But that's where the touchy-feely sentiments end.
"Believe me when I say this: I don't want them to beat us," Francona said. "I think that's stating the obvious."
What is also obvious is that the Red Sox won't have to contend with another media-hyped Red Sox-Yankees best-of-seven battle to baseball death.
"The series itself may not be [as hyped]," Francona acknowledged. "Baseball [talk] might be all over the place, because I bet you there's going to be some really good baseball. I think it tends to be, when it's us and a different team, more baseball, which is quite all right."
This is Boston's fourth trip to the ALCS since 1999. Each of the previous three times, Joe Torre was calling the shots for New York in the other dugout.
"I have a lot of respect for the way Joe does things," Francona said. "I've talked to Joe a lot this year, before series and after series; never out on the field, because people don't want to see that. We've spoken quite a few times, just about the chaos of our series and just how it's tough on everybody. I have a lot of respect for Joe. I think everybody that knows me knows how I've felt about him for a long time."
"That's what everybody expected," added Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, referring to the anticipation of another Red Sox-Yankees ALCS showdown. "But it's not what you expect, it's what it is. Cleveland played way better than the Yankees, and that's why they passed to the next level. It's not like we want to play the Yankees."
The Boston slugger is also not reading a lot into the Red Sox's 5-2 mark against the Indians during the regular season.
"It's a whole new thing," Ortiz added. "It has nothing to do with what happened in the regular season."
While maybe not as chaotic, the pressure of being four games from the World Series still figures to create some intensity.
"I think it still will be intense here," said Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who is known for his intensity. "There's no reason why it shouldn't. I still think it's going to be a situation where every pitch is going to be intense and the magnitude of every pitch is going to be huge. But regardless of whether it's the Yankees or Indians or whoever it would've been, I think it's just a situation where we've got to go out there and play our game."
Boston will be playing a Cleveland team that has a roster filled with young talent like C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera, all of whom were brought up through the Indians' system.
"They believe in what they're doing, and they've been believing this for the last few years," said Red Sox infielder Alex Cora. "When Mark Shapiro got that job, he had a plan. I don't know if they were shooting for 2007, but I guarantee it was very close to what they were shooting for."