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Mattingly Mismanaging Dodgers Into Oblivion

He has one of sports endearing nicknames because hes a class act, an ambassador, a fan favorite whose soft Indiana drawl has carried him through Americas largest and most intense markets. But just because hes known as Donnie Baseball doesnt mean Don Mattingly can manage a championship ballclub.

And if the Los Angeles Dodgers dont recover from his weekend of dugout blunders, theres a good chance hell have a new nickname:

Donnie Pink Slip.

If youre wondering why a franchise with a $237 million payroll hasnt invested a little more in picking up Mattinglys 2014 option, the first two games of the National League championship series provided Exhibit A and Exhibit B and Exhibits C and D and E. As it was, the one killjoy in a heretofore glorious Dodgers season had been his inexplicable strategic decisions, such as pulling stud pitcher Zack Greinke after six innings in a Game 2 loss to Atlanta in the NL divisional series. Now, Mattinglys continuing misfires have placed the Dodgers in an 0-2 crater against the smarter and more streamlined St. Louis Cardinals, who are feeling sweet after facing Grienke and the planets greatest pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and winning both games with a combined four runs.

Thats because the Dodgers were producing only two runs in their agonizing 3-2 and 1-0 losses, a drought due in part to their awful results with runners in scoring position 1 for 16 but also thanks to Mattinglys insistence on removing punch from his lineup in the series opener. In a tight game, it never is advisable to remove your most reliable RBI man and valued team leader in the late innings. But Mattingly, managing for one run despite having a lineup with sufficient power bats, replaced Adrian Gonzalez after hed walked to lead off the eighth inning. Speedy Dee Gordon entered to pinch-run, and he promptly was forced out at second base. So when the Dodgers desperately needed Gonzalezs bat in later situations during a 13-inning marathon, Mattingly had to deploy a weaker threat, Michael Young, who replaced Gonzalez at first base.

Its one of those that youve got to shoot your bullet when you get a chance, Mattingly said. If we dont use him (Gordon) there and the next guy hits a ball in the gap and we dont score there, were going to say, `Why didnt you use Dee?

Well, no. For one thing, there were no outs when he made the switch, meaning Gonzalez surely wouldnt have tried to score if the next guy had hit a ball in the gap. More to the point, Mattingly seemed disturbingly unprepared to think forward into extra innings. In the 10th, Mark Ellis was on third after a one-out triple. If Gonzalez still was in the lineup, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would have been far more hesitant to intentionally walk the rampaging Mr. October candidate, Hanley Ramirez, who hit .500 with six extra-base hits in the NLDS. But instead of having Gonzalez up next to protect Ramirez, Mattingly had Michael Young, who eked out a weak pop fly just beyond the infield, where the perpetual Mr. October, Carlos Beltran, whipped a throw that beat Ellis at home. In the 12th, the Gonzalez-Young nightmare struck again. After Carl Crawfords led off with a single, Mattingly made two more mistakes. Not recognizing that another intentional walk of Ramirez could be imminent, he had Ellis bunt Crawford to second, leaving first base open so Matheny conveniently could walk Ramirez to get to Young, who killed the inning by hitting into a double play.

Weve got to put ourselves in a chance to score a run, Mattingly explained.

Oh, but theres more. In Game 1, Mattingly entrusted Andre Ethier he of the tender lower leg, an injury serious enough that he only pinch-hit in Game 2 to play center field when he hadnt played in that spot since Sept. 13. In the third inning, Beltran ripped a drive to the rightt-center-field fence that would have required a fine defensive play reaching up for a catch and then colliding with the padded wall. Ethier, maybe rusty and concerned about banging his leg into the wall, wasnt the man to make that fine defensive play. Beltrans two-run double was all the Cardinals produced off Greinke, who had nothing to show for 10 strikeouts in eight innings. Said Ethier: I got to the wall right at the same time as the ball did and it kind of hit at the heel of my glove rather than right in the pocket. It was one of those bang-bang plays.

Donnie Baseball? Usually, when a guy jumps at a ball at the wall and runs into it at the same time, you dont really call that rust, he said.

Saturday, the Dodgers looked shellshocked against two obstacles: the late-afternoon shadows in Busch Stadium and Cardinals super-rookie Michael Wacha, who continued his recent dominance in holding the Dodgers scoreless and helping extend their runless streak in this series to 19. Without Ramirez and Ethier in the lineup we cant blame Mattingly for injuries the Dodgers looked sickly at the plate. Yasiel Puig struck out four times and wears the look of defeat.

We had our chances. We had out chances, for sure, said Kershaw, who allowed only two hits and took the loss, with the lone run in the fifth set up by an A.J. Ellis passed ball.

The Cardinals head to Los Angeles with ace Adam Wainwright set for Game 3 against Hyun-Jin Ryu, who looked nervous in his NLDS start and now carries the pressure of lifting his team back into a series that looks lost. You sense where this is going, with the Dodgers batting .134 in the NLCS.

We dont get too far ahead of ourselves. We also dont deny what happened here the last two days, said Matheny, who quickly has made folks forget his Hall of Fame predecessor, Tony La Russa. Those were two very good wins, two very tough wins when you face two starters like that.

Owned by a financial conglomerate, the Dodgers aim to be a global powerhouse, the best baseball team ever assembled. Don Mattingly doesnt fit the profile even when hes managing well. When hes not?

We can look back on every decision, he said. If it doesnt work, you can decide to go the other way.

My guess is, the Dodgers will go the other way. One of their owners is Magic Johnson, who once had Paul Westhead fired the season after he coached the Lakers to an NBA title. Between Magic, the egomaniacal Guggenheim Partners guys and all sorts of angry fans looking for a scapegoat, the demise of Donnie Baseball appears days away.

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