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Muted rivalry led by mellow skippers

Muted rivalry led by mellow skippers

LOS ANGELES -- It would be simple to claim the Giants/Dodgers rivalry has eased.

The heightened expectations of climbing over the other en route to the postseason are muted this season with only the Dodgers currently looking the part of a playoff contender.

The Giants continue to search for an identity in the post-Barry Bonds era and their substandard record has made them mostly active as players in the Trade Deadline market.

Even the fans settled into a warm summer evening at Dodger Stadium on Monday, not with the edge of watching a heated rival but more with the calm that surrounds the simplicity that is baseball.

Gone are the days of Juan Marichal taking a bat to the head of catcher John Roseboro, instead replaced by catchers Bengie Molina and Russell Martin exchanging greetings in the top of the second inning.

Dodgers outfielder Reggie Smith once went into the stands at Candlestick Park, but the scene as the Giants opened a three-game series against the Dodgers saw Dave Roberts and Mark Sweeney catching up, and coaches Mariano Duncan and Roberto Kelly sharing a laugh.

So despite two teams that brought with them a rivalry that was born in the boroughs of New York and became strictly Californian as they migrated West a half-century ago, the current iteration is defined less by animosity and more by circumstances.

That would be the standings in the National League West, where the Dodgers have a dog in the hunt as they chase the Diamondbacks, a team they trail by a game.

The winningest franchise in Major League Baseball history notwithstanding, the Giants' main goal on the year could very well be trying to avoid suffering their second straight last-place finish.

The Giants haven't been to the postseason since winning the NL West in 2003, while the Dodgers last earned a playoff berth as a Wild Card in 2006 but are looking for their first division title since 2004.

While their paths are seemingly headed in opposite directions as the baseball season approaches its final third, the Giants and Dodgers are each guided by managers who project a similar quiet yet firm demeanor.

The Giants' Bruce Bochy is more country, born in France where his dad was stationed in the Army, but reared in Virginia and Florida. Joe Torre, the first-year manager of the Dodgers, is all city, a product of Brooklyn.

One has horse sense, the other is street-wise but each leaves little question as to who is in charge.

Torre put it simply when pressed on the handling of a star player who is currently struggling.

"I treat baseball players like people," Torre said.

A novel concept, especially in a stats-driven era in baseball that is fueled by ever-escalating salaries, but it's exactly why Torre and Bochy are both respected practitioners of a job that aptly reflects its title.

Torre had talent aplenty in New York, but it was his ability to juggle the demands of owner George Steinbrenner and an omnipresent press corps while keeping his clubhouse focused mostly on baseball that not only produced four World Series titles but allowed Torre to enjoy a 12-year run in the Bronx.

Bochy also spent 12 years at his former gig as manager of the Padres. And while the media glare in San Diego is often the curiosity of a lone reporter, Bochy developed a reputation as a player's manager. That, along with the climate, was a reason veterans often put the Padres high on their list of preferred destinations.

The two also hooked up when both were in their previous jobs. That was in 1998 as the Padres and Yankees played in a World Series that resulted in a sweep and produced the second of four titles for Torre.

In their new jobs (Bochy is in his second year in San Francisco), each man has a sense of calm and not simply one bred from experience but is a by-product of perspective.

It is not uncommon for some managers to throw batting practice or swing a fungo during infield, but Torre and Bochy more often prefer to take a step back and observe.

The Giants/Dodgers rivalry has not dissolved -- the derisive chants by the loyalists in blue proving to the contrary as the Dodgers picked away at a seven-run deficit Monday. Torre even got tossed by first-base umpire Greg Gibson during an argument following Casey Blake striking out.

But the 2008 version, at least, has mellowed for the moment and is reflective of two managers who let their players play and allow the scoreboard to be the true indicator.

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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