Don Mattingly has taken to the tone set by Mark Walter, Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti. He takes chances in the dugout just like the money guys do in assembling the roster, and it's as much fun to watch as it is to debate.
But Mattingly's managerial impatience came back to bite him and a Dodgers team that was favored to win the National League Championship Series opener Friday night. He went for the jugular in the top of the eighth inning, pulling cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez for a pinch-runner, and that decision allowed the Cardinals to twice take the bat out of Hanley Ramirez's hands en route to a 3-2 victory in 13 high-wire innings.
Gonzalez was a diplomat afterward.
"It's part of the game," he said. "You know, unfortunately it didn't pan out."
Thanks to a strong throw from Mr. October, Carlos Beltran, as well as the work of the stubborn St. Louis bullpen, the Dodgers were held scoreless despite a traffic jam on the bases in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, which was why catcher A.J. Ellis called it "probably one that got away."
High-octane pitching has been the flavor of the postseason, and this game was no different. Joe Kelly wasn't as locked in as Zack Greinke but the Dodgers couldn't make him pay. Mattingly tried to force the issue in the eighth inning.
After Gonzalez led off with a walk, Mattingly inserted Dee Gordon to pinch-run. But Gordon wasn't running on either of the first two pitches to Puig and was forced at second on a grounder to shortstop Pete Kozma, retreating to the dugout afterward just as passively as Gonzalez would have. In came Michael Young to play first, and he would make the third out in the 10th and the 12th innings, both times with the go-ahead run in scoring position.
"Well, it's one of those [situations] that you've got to shoot your bullet when you get a chance," Mattingly said. "If we don't use [Gordon] there and the next guy hits a ball in the gap and he doesn't score and we don't score there, we're going to say, 'Why didn't you use Dee?' So it was our opportunity to run him. Obviously, Yasiel swung early, and it didn't work out for us. But it's still a situation that I don't think we would [do differently]. You get a guy on in that inning, and you have to take a shot at scoring a run."
In Mattingly's defense, Young came close to getting Mark Ellis home from third after Ramirez was intentionally walked in the 10th inning. Young's fly wasn't quite deep enough, however, as Beltran shooed off center fielder Jon Jay while moving inward and fired a one-hop strike to beat Ellis to the plate. The 12th-inning rally fizzled in less dramatic fashion, with Young grounding into an inning-ending double play with Carl Crawford on second, after Ramirez was walked to get to him.
Mattingly vowed that the outcome won't cause him to change the way he manages.
"We're trying to win a game," he said. "We can look back on every decision. If it doesn't work, you can decide to go the other way. But we're trying to win a game tonight, and that's why we used Dee."
While Game 2 starter Michael Wacha gives the Cardinals a secret weapon to go alongside Adam Wainwright, most people gave the Dodgers the starting pitching edge because they can use Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Greinke at least four times in the series. The Dodgers definitely have a more dangerous lineup than the Cardinals, who have scored 15 runs in the last five games.
But the Cardinals have a definite advantage in the bullpen, which showed up in the opener. Mattingly was trying to hold closer Kenley Jansen for a save situation but wound up calling him in after trouble had broken out in the 13th -- the exact situation that Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he was avoiding when he pulled Justin Verlander when his ace wanted to go out for the ninth inning in Game 5 against the A's.
Jansen, a strikeout machine, had runners on first and second with one out when he came in to face Beltran, who delivered the game-winner.
"That's pretty much what happens with the closer," Mattingly said when asked about saving him for a save. "We're not going to use him really early. There, it's just that kind of game that you're going to end up trying to stop it there. Maybe we get another inning out of him, depending on what happens, and go from there."
Trying to construct a bullpen that will work against the Cardinals, the Dodgers are taking risks on veterans Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez, who were discarded by the going-nowhere Cubs and Padres, respectively. They were added to the NLCS roster in place of lefties Chris Capuano, who won Game 3 of the Division Series with three scoreless innings behind starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Paco Rodriguez, who made a team-high 76 appearances but has lost his effectiveness.
Neither Marmol nor Volquez got into Game 1 but how good can Mattingly feel whenever he turns to them?
One thing the Dodgers can be thankful about is the professionalism of Gonzalez. He was not pouting about losing two chances to be a hero in extra innings, which would have been easy to do when you're hitting .350 this postseason.
He was asked if it was tough to watch from the bench.
"No," he answered. "It was tough to see us lose at the end. The rest in between was exciting and, you know, overall the outcome is all that matters. ... Our job is to come out tomorrow and get that split."
Wacha won't make that easy, not if he resembles the Cy Young winner-in-waiting who dominated the Pirates in Game 4 of the Division Series, when the Cardinals needed a win to stay alive. The Dodgers are going to need Gonzalez for all nine innings, and maybe more.