With series tied, Mattingly focused on bouncing back
Dodgers' skipper not bothered by those who second-guess Game 2 decision
LOS ANGELES -- It was the day after.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly wasn't interested in talking about the night before.
His attention is on the next day and what could happen.
Mattingly, however, tried to be polite on Saturday afternoon, a workout day at Dodger Stadium between Games 2 and 3 of the NL Division Series in which the Dodgers and Braves split the first two games at Turner Field. Game 3 on Sunday will begin at 8 p.m. ET and can bee seen on TBS.
A media that enjoys the luxury of the second guess was waiting at the first chance to revisit the seventh inning of Friday's 4-3 loss, in which a series of moves and counter-moves left the Braves with the upper hand when left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward delivered a two-run single off Dodgers left-handed reliever Paco Rodriguez.
"I really don't feel like going through the game again," he said during the daily media session. "Honestly, I'm looking at Game 3. I think the situation in the game last night, no matter which way I go, it could be questioned."
Such is the life of a big league manager.
Dusty Baker manages Cincinnati to three postseason appearances in four years, but after losing the one-game Wild Card showdown with Pittsburgh on Tuesday, he is let go by the Reds even though he has another year at a salary believed in excess of $3.5 million. Hailed for his ability to motivate players, his failing is the uninspired play of his team in the final days of the season.
And the fact that Mattingly is in the last year of his contract, and no talks have begun on an extension, adds to the media unrest in his situation.
Baseball, more than any other team sport, is ripe for second guesses.
"The essence of any competition is the one-on-one, mano-a-mano confrontation," said Dodgers president Stan Kasten, who previously served as the general manager of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and president of the Hawks, Braves, the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers, as well as the Nationals. "And no sport has that like baseball has on every single pitch. Everything flows from the pitcher-batter confrontation.
"And we have discrete breaks in the action. Every pitch is a brand new situation from which a thousand things could follow. So each game has literally 200-300 separate ... confrontations. Multiply that by all the variables of every situation, and all the possible outcomes, [and it] makes for a lot of possibilities -- and a lot of second guessing."
Think about it.
An interception or fumble in football and the passer or ball carrier comes under fire.
A basketball player misses a free throw or a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer or turns the ball over at a crucial time and he's under the microscope.
But not in baseball.
"It ain't like football," Yogi Berra is credited with saying. "You can't make up no trick plays."
So when the left-handed Rodriguez served up the two-run single, the question was not over the pitch he threw or where he threw it, but rather why Mattingly brought him in to force Atlanta counterpart Fredi Gonzalez to send the right-handed Reed Johnson in for the left-handed hitting Jose Constanza, which prompted Mattingly to walk Johnson and load the bases for Heyward.
And the next thing Mattingly knows, he's under fire for his strategy, even though nobody knows what would have happened had he left right-hander Chris Withrow in to face the left-handed-hitting Constanza.
"If I leave Withrow in to pitch and give up a hit there, I'm going to question myself and I'm going to be like, 'Why didn't I use Paco?,'" said Mattingly. "So it's one of those things that if the move works, if the matchup works, it's good. If it doesn't, it's bad. So there is really nothing other than it not going the way I want it, that I would change."
As Detroit manager Jim Leyland has said on more than one occasion, "How do you know it would have worked if I had done it the other way?"
That's why the successful manager is one who makes a decision, lives with it and moves on. He doesn't worry what might be said. He doesn't prepare himself for what could go wrong. He is looking for what can go right.
The late Dick Howser was once asked how he was able to so calmly deal with being second-guessed.
"Never have been," said Howser, who was managing Kansas City at the time.
Never? Not even managing the New York Yankees, where he won 102 games in 1980, and then quit at season's end because the late George Steinbrenner fired third-base coach Mike Ferraro.
"Never," he said. "I have just had a lot of opportunities to educate the unenlightened."
Self-confidence is crucial in decision-making, particularly in baseball, where there is such an immediate public dissection of every move.
Mattingly comes under fire for a Braves rally in the seventh that turns a 2-1 games into a 4-1 game, and there is even the assumption by some that had the seventh inning turned out differently the Dodgers would have won 3-2 because Hanley Ramirez homered in the eighth.
But if the Braves don't score, does Ramirez get that chance? If the Braves are nursing a 2-1 lead with six outs to go, does Gonzalez still bring in David Carpenter in the eighth, and if he is pitching, does Carpenter approach Ramirez differently in an at-bat with the lead on the line?
Don't forget, the Dodgers had runners on first and third with one out, thanks to Dodger reliever Luis Ayala failing to step on the bag when he covered first base on a ground ball Michael Young hit to first baseman Freddie Freeman, and then four pitches later, Luis Avilan, who replaced Ayala, gets Carl Crawford to ground back to the mound for the start of an inning-ending double play.
And what if, as Dee Gordon claims, he was safe on that stolen base attempt in the top of the ninth, ahead of a walk to Andre Ethier, giving the Dodgers two on with one out, instead of two out and one on?
"That's what you love about the game," said former manager, current scout Jim Fregosi. "It's not duplicate bridge. You don't get to play the game again with the same hand."
The decision has to be made in an instant.
The second-guessing can go on forever.