Baseball lifer Brad Mills pinch-hits as AL All-Star manager

MIAMI — Among the most unlikely All-Stars is a former 17th-round draft pick with one career home run.

Brad Mills won’t swing a bat Tuesday night. But he will pinch-hit.

The Cleveland Indians bench coach will manage the American League team as a replacement for Indians manager Terry Francona, who is recovering from a procedure last week to correct an irregular heartbeat.

“Getting this responsibility is very humbling,” Mills said. “I’m thrilled to be here, but I definitely would love to have Terry sitting here in this chair.”

If not for Francona’s health issue, Mills would have taken part in the game as a coach. Now he’s responsible for running a 32-man team and getting most of the players into the game.

He had some help with the starting lineup from Francona, who paid Mills a visit before the Indians’ game Sunday.

“When he came in the clubhouse he sat down, and the first thing he said to me is, ‘OK, who’s hitting second?’” Mills said. Both knew it was a given Jose Altuve of the Astros would lead off. Jose Ramirez of the Indians will bat second.

Despite contrasting personalities, Francona and Mills have been close since they were college teammates at Arizona in the 1970s. Mills serves as the straight man while Francona delivers punchlines.

Together they could perform “Who’s on First?”

“Brad’s the anti-Tito,” Indians All-Star reliever Andrew Miller said. “To watch them work together and see how different they are, and yet how much they do like each other, it’s pretty special. I don’t know if they could be more different.”

Francona and Mills hardly look at each other during games, their eyes fixed on the field as they shift the defence, analyze pitches and at-bats and plan moves.

Deciding the AL batting order was another result of their teamwork, Mills said.

“You really couldn’t do wrong with putting them anybody anywhere in the lineup that we have,” he said. “It was more about this being a show, let these guys show what they can do. Up and down the lineup we can shuffle it, put anybody in there.”

Mills will be assisted by the rest of the Cleveland staff and by Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, who previously worked for the Indians. Francona and the staff earned the opportunity to lead the AL All-Stars after guiding the Indians last year to the World Series, their first since 1997.

While the 60-year-old Mills has never before led such a star-studded lineup, he’s a baseball lifer.

“This was definitely thrust on him,” Miller said, “but the recognition and spotlight are very well deserved.”

Mills broke into the majors as a third baseman with Montreal in 1980 and was finished by 1983, after 106 games. He began coaching in 1987 and in 1997 joined the Philadelphia Phillies, where Francona was a rookie manager.

They were also together in Boston, where Mills helped Francona manage the Red Sox to the World Series championship in 2004, ending the team’s 86-year title drought. Mills was still coaching for Francona when the Red Sox won the championship again in 2007.

Mills managed the Houston Astros for 2 1/2 seasons beginning in 2010 but was fired after going 171-274 (.384). When Francona was hired to manage the Indians in 2013, Mills rejoined him.

“Millsy and Tito are pretty much joined at the hip,” Indians All-Star right-hander Corey Kluber said. “It might be Brad Mills managing the team, but it’s not going to be that much different than if it was Tito.”

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