Despite disappointing finish, Mattingly proud
Manager finds positives in Dodgers' October run after postseason cut short
ST. LOUIS -- This wasn't how Dodgers manager Don Mattingly wanted it to end.
The Cardinals were celebrating on Friday night, a 9-0 victory against the Dodgers at Busch Stadium in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, allowing St. Louis to advance to the World Series.
And Mattingly and the Dodgers were packing their bags in the visiting clubhouse, getting ready to head home for the winter.
Mattingly relished every second of the postseason, until the final seconds.
"Obviously, I am really proud of my club," said Mattingly. "I felt like these guys hung in all year long. They were a great group to be around."
Talking in the past tense, Mattingly is looking at the future. He's going to meet next week with team president Stan Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti when, as well as reflecting on the past season, they will look at next season with every indication that Mattingly will return for his fourth year as the Dodgers' manager.
The team does have an option for next season -- at a reasonable $1.4 million -- and all indications in recent days were that it would be exercised and there might even be a year or two added to the deal.
Mattingly more than earned that with the way he nursed this high-priced, injury-prone team through a miserable start -- last place in the NL West and 9 1/2 games out the morning of June 22 -- into first place a month later and then saw the Dodgers clinch the division title earlier than any of the five other division titlists.
He earned it by not letting the fact he knew he was a loss or two away from being dismissed back in June or the constant second-guessing that comes with the managerial territory distract him from providing the Dodgers with management stability in how he dealt with each day.
And he earned it by maintaining the same calmness in the postseason that he had during the regular season.
"It's good to know that you can get in these games and it doesn't really change, didn't speed up on me," Mattingly said. "You all can question this move or that move, but nothing really caught me by surprise. I didn't feel overwhelmed by it. It was really a good feeling to know that you can get in there and slow it down and not get caught up in what game it is or anything else.
"Obviously, this isn't where we want to end it. But we were able to win a series in Atlanta. I thought we played well at times in this series."
Mattingly learned his lessons during his 18 years with the Yankees -- 14 as a player and four as a coach -- and their owner, the late George Steinbrenner.
"[Steinbrenner] was pretty tough," Mattingly said earlier this season, "but you knew what you were in for. That is a good thing.
"It doesn't make you do anything different. I asked a lot of myself as a player. Nobody could ask more. And I ask a lot of myself as a manager. I have a job to do, and because there are expectations that does not change what I do."
What he did this season was awfully good, but not good enough in a world where there's only one out of 30 teams that can enjoy the final day of its season.
Mattingly, in his 24th year in a big league uniform, hasn't gotten to dress out for a World Series game. Fourteen years and 1,785 days as a player, seven years as a coach -- including three with the Dodgers -- and now three years as a manager, but never a World Series moment.
It doesn't bother him, for himself, said Mattingly, but it does bother him.
"Going through the spring, the long season, and then it just comes to a crash," he said. "It's disappointing for all of us."
But it is the manager who finds himself in the spotlight.
Inexperience and injuries can hang over a team, but in baseball, more than any other sport, the manager is expected to have the medicine to cure what ails a team.
And when there are losses, it's the manager who is under the public microscope.
"That's part of the job," said Mattingly. "You understand that. You can't think about that. You have to do what you feel is the right thing to do."
Mattingly was hit hard during the postseason.
The Dodgers lost only one of four games to Atlanta in the NL Division Series, but it was that one loss, 4-3, at Atlanta in Game 2, that became a focal point when Mattingly mixed-and-match his way through three batter sequence in the bottom of the seventh only to see left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward deliver the two-out, two-run single off lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez to put the Braves up, 4-1.
A 13-inning, 3-2 loss to the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS became an issue when in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game, he pinch-ran Dee Gordon for the one healthy, productive bat in the lineup, Adrian Gonzalez. Not only did Gordon get forced at second -- never even getting at a point where he attempted a stolen base -- but twice in extra innings, Michael Young got the at-bats that would have been Gonzalez's.
Both times Hanley Ramirez was walked ahead of Young. Both times the inning ended with double plays. Young flied to shallow right in the 10th, and A.J. Ellis was thrown out, trying to score, and it was a fourth ground-into-double-play in the 12th.
And what underscores the life of a manager is that what might be the most questionable move Mattingly made in the postseason -- having Clayton Kershaw pitch on three days' rest for the first time in his career in Game 4 of the NLDS -- was quickly overlooked because Kershaw pitched well (two unearned runs in six innings) and the Dodgers won.
"It's been fine," Mattingly said of the spotlight he has endured. "It's been that way the whole year. The postseason was actually a lot of fun, because it was good for me from the standpoint of just concentration and focus on the game at hand.''
And now, with his first October managerial experience in his rearview mirror, Mattingly's ready to start looking ahead and plotting the route that next year he hopes will allow him and the Dodgers to take a long journey down the winding road of baseball's postseason.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.