This time a year ago and for weeks leading to the World Series it seemed the game was intent on delivering Manny Ramirez(notes) to Boston in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform for the sake of penance or last laugh, whatever its mood.
The seamhead deities were no match for Chad Billingsley's(notes) psyche or Jason Varitek's(notes) bat, however, so we got Phillies-Rays while Manny mulled the cost of gasoline and, more important (to him), himself.
Well, the possibility for Manny and the Red Sox is alive again this year, maybe without the proximity of emotions but with every inch the drama. While waiting on the Red Sox to clinch the AL wild card (they still need to win a game or have the Rangers lose one) and the Dodgers to clinch the NL West after four pathetic days in Pittsburgh, and for the Twins and Tigers to complete an enduring baseball day in Detroit, we got to thinking about other chance October meetings, managers category.
Mike Scioscia vs. the Dodgers. It's been said the Dodgers stunted their organization for a decade because of their short-sighted disregard for two catchers. The first, Mike Piazza(notes), was traded for five somewhat usable parts (Gary Sheffield(notes) drove in 100 runs three times for them), played another decade and retired with Hall of Fame numbers. The second, Scioscia, managed in Triple A in 1999 and at the end of the season was told by the Dodgers he wasn't really manager material. Since, the Dodgers have employed Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy, Grady Little and Joe Torre, and Scioscia has driven the Angels to six postseason appearances and a World Series championship.
Joe Torre vs. the New York Yankees. Another spurned ex-catcher. While the Yankees were adjusting to an entirely different managerial style and then missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995 last season, Torre was dragging the Dodgers into their first NLCS in 20 years. Imagine Torre standing on the top step in the new ballpark, in a city he once owned, in front of fans who adored him, yukking it up with – of all people – Manny.
Jim Tracy vs. the Dodgers. Somehow, the Dodgers have gotten themselves entangled in a lot of this. Paul DePodesta broke up much of the Dodgers' '04 division winner, leaving Tracy with a 91-game loser in '05. Tracy left willingly (with a job in Pittsburgh waiting, which maybe sounded like a good idea at the time), and DePodesta was fired several weeks later. Now the surprising Rockies go into the final days of the season leading the NL wild-card race by two games, Tracy is the favorite for NL manager of the year and could spent a lot of October (and November) back in L.A.
Terry Francona vs. the Philadelpia Phillies. He spent four seasons as manager in Philly, two of them in last place, including his send-off 2000, when they finished 30 games behind the Braves. Four years later, Francona was much, much smarter, leading a band of Idiots to a World Series championship that sated four generations of Sox fans. A Pennsylvania guy, Francona would find this a warm homecoming.
Jim Leyland vs. the Rockies. In the midst of a long and decorated career as a big league manager, a wonderful baseball man had that one weird season in Colorado. Between those two seasons in Florida (the first of which brought a World Series championship to south Florida) and, some time later, these four seasons in Detroit, Leyland stopped over in Denver for 90 losses. He left with two years left on his contract. Now, life has improved for the Rockies. They had that whole Rocktober thing, and they're at the doorstep again. But while most of the baseball world finds Leyland endearing (career minor league ballplayer, blue-collar manager, etc.), folks in Denver maybe aren't quite so sure.
If the playoffs started today:
Cardinals at Dodgers
Rockies at Phillies
Tigers at Yankees
Red Sox at Angels
Tuesday night (and afternoon) primer:
The Tigers and Twins mix it up in games one and two of a four-game series. In the second game, Twins lefty Brian Duensing(notes), whose rookie season is ending with a spectacular September (3-0, 1.74 ERA, five starts), goes against Tigers 17-game winner Justin Verlander(notes), who hasn't beaten the Twins in three starts this season.
The Braves apparently aren't going to lose anymore. While they're getting all Rockies '07 on the Rockies of '09 (they're 15-2 since Sept. 10 and have gained 6½ games in the wild-card race), Bobby Cox's boys have Tim Hudson(notes) going against the Marlins and Josh Johnson(notes) in Atlanta. Hudson has pitched well in four of his five starts since coming off the DL, while Johnson missed his Sunday start because of the flu. The Marlins will be eliminated with their next loss or the Rockies' next win.
The Rockies are at home against the Brewers and give the ball to Jason Marquis(notes), who has 15 wins but just one in the past five weeks. His last three starts have been particularly dismal, issuing 14 walks and allowing 15 runs in 16 1/3 innings. Only the Giants (49-29) won more home games than the Rockies (48-30) in the NL.
The Dodgers are in, but playing something less than their best ball. They still need a win (or a Rockies loss) to take their second consecutive NL West title. Torre can't have any idea what he's going to get from Billingsley, but he'll get another look tonight in San Diego. Left-hander Cesar Ramos(notes), who pitched at Long Beach State, gets his first major league start.
The Angels had a helluva party Monday night, so they must be in. Ervin Santana(notes) threw a one-walk, two-strikeout shutout at the Rangers, so Scott Kazmir(notes) pitches tonight to prep for the Red Sox in the division series.