Just a few days ago, under very different circumstances, Don Mattingly was fending off reporters and questions about his possible demise. The Dodgers are also in last place. Quite a burden when the only acceptable outcome is, at the very least, a National League pennant. That goal has eluded L.A. since 1988. If Mattingly takes the fall for this club, a team that has redefined the word "uninspired," he won't be the first scapegoat, and he won't be the last.
But Mattingly will be just fine either way. There will be another club who gives him a chance to lead again, secure in the knowledge that this borderline Hall of Famer as a player deserves another chance to lead.
Think back to the fall of 2000. Terry Francona had just completed four straight losing seasons as the Phillies' manager. Fans pushed for a parade to celebrate the firing (let's face it, they had nothing else to celebrate in Philly). Francona's tenure was that "bad." But as a lifetime baseball man, Francona just needed the right opportunity.
Francona got that shot in Boston. The Red Sox took a shot with a manager whose career record was nearly 100 games under .500 and needed a TV to get anywhere near the playoffs. They were rewarded to the max with two World Series titles in a four-year span. He's now considered one of the best managers in the game.
There is no comparison between the expectations and payroll of those Phillies teams (21st out of 30 in 2000) and the current Dodgers club that leads the Majors in players' salary. But sometimes the first shot at glory is not the best shot. In the case of Mattingly, it shouldn't be his last.
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While we're on the topic of getting another shot (or in the case of Pittsburgh's Jason Grilli, a first shot,) consider this -- at age 36 and in his 11th Major League season, this is his first opportunity to close games. Grilli has not only been perfect (22-for-22 in save opportunities), but his enthusiasm is contagious. Grilli appears to be having a blast. A veteran who has the looks and personality of a star is finally becoming one.
Grilli also has a great sense of baseball tradition and family. His father, Steve, pitched in the Majors for parts of four seasons in the 1970s. At this year's World Baseball Classic, when Jason was playing for Team Italy, he told me, "Through osmosis I became my father," and hopes his boys do the same. "They were screaming at the game the other day, 'That's my dad!'" Awesome, and well deserved.
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When Anibal Sanchez lost his no-hitter in the ninth inning last week on a clean single to center field off the bat of Joe Mauer, the common thinking was "at least it was Joe Mauer."
Sanchez even chuckled when asked about losing his bid to one of the best hitters in the game, as if to say there's no shame in losing a no-hit bid to a three-time batting champion. This was the third time in Mauer's career he'd broken up a no-hitter in the ninth inning of a game. The first came in 2008, and the next one was in 2010.
Impressive, right? You bet. Mauer is only the second player in the expansion era to ruin three no-hitters in the ninth inning or later. The first to do it was … drum roll … former Yankees infielder Horace Clarke. Gasp! Clarke achieved that feat in a 28-day span in 1970. A career .256 hitter, Clarke has company on top of the list.
You get the feeling watching both Sanchez and Mauer they each could be in similar spots again, maybe very soon.
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Many experts and fans predicted the Tigers and Nationals would run away with their respective divisions and match up in the 2013 World Series. Months before that possibility, the clubs already have much in common.
This 2013 Nationals team is the '12 Tigers in many ways. It was Fall Classic or bust for both clubs. Both feature veteran managers living for another shot at October glory. Both feature stud aces on top of deep rotations, and more star power than an episode of "The Love Boat."
Yet each team started off the season in a lackluster fashion. Remember, The Tigers were actually below .500 at this time last year due to a poor road record and some defensive limitations. The Nats are suffering from both of those things.
One major difference: the Tigers won the AL Central by winning 12 of their 18 head-to-head meetings with an inferior White Sox team that overachieved all season. The Nationals trail the Braves. That's a whole different ball of wax. Atlanta is one of the best teams in baseball, and a dozen head-to-head matchups between the two remain before the regular season comes to a close.