The result was an unexpected season for the Indians, who made the struggles of 2012 seem like ancient history. Cleveland won 92 games and made the postseason, and Francona took home the Baseball Writers' Association of America's American League Manager of the Year Award for the team's swift turnaround.
When it was all said and done, the Indians were left wanting more than their brief flirtation with the playoffs. Still, it was a memorable year that ended included a champagne celebration followed by sea of red-clad fans at a sold-out Progressive Field for the AL Wild Card Game.
Here is a glance back at five of the top storylines for the Indians from the past year:
5. Masterson's masterful season
Heading into last season, there were as many question marks surrounding rotation leader Justin Masterson as anyone else on the staff. After a breakout showing in 2011, the big right-hander lost 15 games in '12 and endured an inconsistent campaign, making it hard to predict which pitcher would show up this time around.
Masterson answered that question by piecing together the first All-Star season of his career. The sinkerballer won 14 games and piled up 195 strikeouts in 193 innings, even with September nearly thrown out the window because of an oblique injury. Masterson embraced a leadership role on the mound and in the clubhouse and set the tone for the Tribe's resurgent staff.
Masterson turned in three shutouts, picked up the win in a 1-0 victory three times and served as Cleveland's Opening Day starter for the second straight year. Masterson threw the first and last pitch of the regular season for the Indians, who asked him to fill a relief role late in the season. With the back end of the bullpen in tatters, Masterson returned from injury as a late-inning weapon.
In his final game of the regular season, Masterson induced a groundout that set off Cleveland's Wild Card-clinching celebration in Minnesota.
4. The kids are all right
The Indians spent big last winter -- reeling in veterans such as Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn -- but the 2013 season had a youthful flair to it.
Yan Gomes opened the season at Triple-A Columbus, but emerged as Cleveland's starting catcher in the second half. Rookie reliever Cody Allen turned in a stellar season amidst turmoil in the bullpen, serving as a stabilizing force for the Tribe. Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister developed into steady options in the rotation, providing more hope that the future is in good hands.
Jason Kipnis let the baseball world know that he has arrived, and Danny Salazar made it clear that he is arriving.
In his second full season, Kipnis earned a spot on the AL All-Star team for the first time and captured the AL's Player of the Month honor for June. Kipnis became the first Indians second baseman to lead the team in RBIs outright since 1948 (Joe Gordon), and he continued to show off his blend of power (17 home runs) and speed (30 stolen bases).
The 23-year-old Salazar stormed through Double-A and Triple-A, making mincemeat of Minor League hitters, on his way to a much-anticipated big league debut on July 11. The hard-throwing righty did not disappoint, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning and becoming the first Cleveland pitcher since 1964 to have at least seven strikeouts in a debut. Salazar dazzled, got the nod for the Wild Card Game and is poised for a rotation job next season.
3. Don't call it a comeback
No one knew what to expect from Ubaldo Jimenez in 2013, given the forgettable season he offered the Indians in the previous year. That also applied to lefty Scott Kazmir, who was plucked from baseball's scrap heap, offered a Minor League contract and gifted with the chance to make the rotation after pitching in Indy ball in 2012.
No one saw their comebacks coming.
Jimenez overcame a few early rough patches and turned in a strong campaign, going 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 182 2/3 innings. The right-hander was especially strong in the second half, when he led AL starters with a 1.82 ERA. In September, during Cleveland's run to the postseason, all Big U did for the Tribe was go 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA and 51 strikeouts in six starts.
Kazmir returned from oblivion to win 10 games, post a 4.04 ERA and log 162 strikeouts in 158 innings. The lefty had three double-digit strikeout showings in the season's final month, during which he logged a 2.57 ERA. Jimenez and Kazmir became the first Indians teammates in franchise history to each have a pair of starts with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks.
2. The shot heard 'round Cleveland
It was a home run that will go down in Indians lore as one of the most memorable and important blasts in a regular-season game. On Sept. 24, aging slugger Jason Giambi grabbed a bat, came off the bench and launched a walk-off shot that sent Progressive Field into a frenzy. Giambi was already viewed as a team leader. Now, he was a local hero.
Cleveland looked dead and buried after former Chris Perez blew a save in the top of the ninth to give the White Sox the lead. In a matter of minutes, raucous boos transformed into a celebratory roar with one swing of Giambi's bat. His two-run, pinch-hit homer off Addison Reed sailed over the wall in right field, keeping the Tribe's Wild Card season alive.
Giambi's blast made him -- for the second time in 2013 -- the oldest player in baseball history to belt a walk-off home run. Hank Aaron previously set that record in 1976. It was also one of 11 walk-off moments, including six courtesy of home runs and six that took place in extra innings, throughout the Indians' roller-coaster ride of a season.
During Cleveland's four-game sweep of the Mariners from May 17-20 -- one of seven four-game broomings on the season -- the club enjoyed a trio of walk-off victories. Throughout the year, Giambi, Swisher, Kipnis, Gomes, Carlos Santana, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Raburn, Mark Reynolds and Matt Carson all got in on the fun. The late-inning magic at home helped lead to 51 wins in front of the Cleveland faithful.
1. A Wild finish
It seemed fitting to refer to the 2013 Indians as "Team Lazarus," because the team seemingly rose from the dead so often. Even with a month left to play, making the playoffs appeared to be an unlikely scenario. When the regular season was down to 10 games, October baseball still seemed improbable for the Tribe.
With the odds stacked against them, the Indians pulled it off.
Cleveland rattled off 21 wins in September, representing just the fifth time since at least 1921 that an Indians team enjoyed at least 20 wins in the final month. It marked the first time since 1995 that the Tribe experienced at least 20 wins in any one month. It turned out that the Indians needed every last one of those September wins, too.
The Indians finished their season with 10 consecutive wins to become only the sixth team in the modern era (since 1900) to end a campaign with at least that many wins in a row. It had not been accomplished since the Orioles achieved the feat in 1971.
On the final day of the regular season, Swisher belted a home run, Jimenez struck out 13, Masterson recorded the final out and the Indians captured the AL's top Wild Card spot. For Cleveland, it was the first trip to the playoffs since 2007, when the team came within one win of reaching the World Series.
The Indians then took on the Rays in the Wild Card Game in Cleveland, where a packed Progressive Field witnessed postseason baseball again. Tampa Bay walked away with the win and Cleveland left with a sense that there was much more to accomplish in the years ahead.