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Going by the book sinks Mattingly, Dodgers

Manager plays percentages, has lefty face Heyward in key seventh inning @TracyRingolsby

ATLANTA -- Sometimes it's better not to read The Book.

The ending isn't what it always is cracked up to be.

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Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was flipping through the pages in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Braves on Friday night, and before he got to the last page, he realized it was more of a horror story than a fairy tale.

Atlanta pulled out a 4-3 victory against the Dodgers, salvaging a split of the two games at Turner Field in a best-of-five series that now heads to Dodger Stadium for the next two games.

And the Dodgers were left to wonder "what if?"

"Obviously you always look back at everything," said Mattingly, "but we're down 2-1 [in the game]. Yeah, you always look back, you could have done this, you could have done that. You look at it honestly and you see what you think."

What the Dodgers saw Friday night wasn't pretty.

It's not that there were any bizarre moves, at least not by the book. It's just that for the Dodgers, the moves didn't work out.

The late Bob Lemon was a two-time American League Manager of the Year. He won the award in 1977 when he led the Chicago White Sox to a 90-72 record. He was fired 74 games into 1978.

He, however, got hired to replace Billy Martin as manager of the Yankees on July 25 that same season. He oversaw the Yankees' rally from a 14-game July deficit in the AL East standings to beating Boston in a Game 163 at Fenway Park to claim the division title, and eventually celebrated a world championship. That earned Lemon another trophy for his mantel.

Sixty-five games into the 1979 season, Lemon was fired again.

"I guess I took a lot of dumb pills over the winter," Lemon told me more than once. "What are you going to do?"

There really isn't much that can be done. The decisions are made. The outcomes are reached. And the next day comes.

But there is still that feeling of "what if?" that hangs over a manager, particularly Mattingly, who is in the final year of his contract. His job status has been under media scrutiny ever since the Dodgers stumbled into June in last place in the NL West. Club officials have since admitted he was within a game or two of being replaced.

None of the Dodgers' higher-ups are saying that Mattingly's job is on the line now, but they aren't offering any contract extension either.

The biggest endorsement came from club president Stan Kasten on the eve of the start of the NLDS when he said, "I think he's done great. He rode through some storms during the season and was firmly at the helm of one of the great runs in baseball history. I hope he has that same touch in the postseason."

He did in Game 1. The Dodgers toyed with the Braves in a 6-1 victory.

He didn't in Game 2. The Braves did some rewriting of the book in a two-run seventh inning that allowed them to take a 4-1 lead, just enough to hold on despite a two-run eighth-inning home run from Hanley Ramirez, who also happened to double home the Dodgers' other run in the first.

The postgame focus was on Mattingly's decision to bring left-handed reliever Paco Rodriguez into the game with two out, runners on second and third and the right-handed Reed Johnson having been announced to pinch-hit. Mattingly had Rodriguez intentionally walk Johnson, which is in line with the book, to load the bases.

Then he had the left-handed Rodriguez pitch to the left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward. It was a matchup of a hitter with a .232 career average vs. lefties against a southpaw who may have been a second-round Draft choice just 16 months ago but in 87 big league games had limited lefties to a .133 batting average and struck out 48 of the 127 who have batted against him.

"Play the matchups," said Heyward. "Play the matchups. That's what the postseason is about. You go lefty-lefty there."

So much for that idea. Heyward sent a two-run single up the middle, and the Braves had a 4-1 lead.

"Just at that point, trusting Paco to do what he had to do," Mattingly said.

Just going by the book.

But even before Johnson and Heyward, what got the whole seventh-inning whirlwind started was when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez went fishing by sending left-handed-hitting Jose Constanza up to pinch-hit with right-hander Chris Withrow on the mound.

Mattingly took the bait. He decided to take out Withrow, who had just overematched switch-hitting Elliot Johnson. Johnson took a third strike with runners on second and third.

In came Rodriguez, out went Constanza, the 30-year-old journeyman who hit .276 without a home run and only 17 RBI in 341 at-bats at Triple-A Gwinett this season and has five hits and six strikeouts in 22 big league pinch-hit at-bats spread over the last three seasons. Up went Reed Johnson, a .297 pinch-hitter this year, which led to the intentional walk, bringing up Heyward.

Down went the Dodgers, who could find solace in that the next two games will be at their home, Dodger Stadium.

"You win the first game, obviously you'd like to win the second," said Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis. "But you also have to realize they have [the best record in baseball] at home this year, and they have a good team. They aren't going to give anything to us. But the big thing is we split here and now we get to go home."

That should be a plus for the Dodgers, according to the book.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow