October continues to be Torre's time
Storied manager on top of his game when it matters most
ST. LOUIS -- The winningest manager in Major League Baseball postseason history was holding a champagne goblet in his left hand after an especially raucous clubhouse celebration scene Saturday at Busch Stadium, after the Dodgers clinched the National League Division Series. A TV reporter asked Joe Torre if that was the most he had ever been soaked by his own players in such a joyous moment.
"No, the Yankees in '96," the Dodgers' manager said matter-of-factly. "I don't even remember, that's so long ago, but that was the first one there for such a long time."
In his first year as manager of the Bronx Bombers, Torre celebrated a World Series title against the Braves and the end of an 18-year drought. That had been the longest wait between World Series championships in the proud history of the Yankees. It was also the start of a four-ring dynasty, one that defined Torre as a leader and a future Hall of Famer.
Now Torre finds himself in what could be a similar situation, one that he will not fully recognize in public -- at least, not yet.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, nee the Trolley Dodgers of Brooklyn, are another of baseball's elite original franchises that have waited painfully long by their standards. Like those Yankees, this is the longest drought between titles in Los Angeles Dodgers history. They last won it all 21 years ago when Kirk Gibson led them miraculously past Oakland. They have a young nucleus of rising stars like Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Jonathan Broxton, with a healthy mix of experienced veterans like Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake.
"My wife, Ali, is sitting right here," Torre said after the clincher. "After we won in '96, she said, 'Well, there it is, you won the World Series. Let's go off somewhere and enjoy it.' And I said, 'Let's see if we can do it again' -- never dreaming that I'm here in 2009.
"We have more work to do, but to get through the first round, it's wonderful. It's something that you really can't describe how good it is, because I never experienced this as a player, but in looking back, what it feels like as a manager ... you have all these players that come together and become one. They don't go out and eat with each other; all they do is play and help each other. And to me as a manager, that's the most satisfying thing I can ever feel, how these kids come together and just know how important it is what they do."
|2009||LAD||95-67||3-0||Won NLDS over STL|
|2008||LAD||84-78||3-0||Won NLDS over CHC|
|1-4||Lost NLDS to PHI|
|2007||NYY||94-68||1-3||Lost ALDS to CLE|
|2006||NYY||97-65||1-3||Lost ALDS to DET|
|2005||NYY||95-67||2-3||Lost ALDS to LAA|
|2004||NYY||101-61||3-1||Won ALDS over MIN|
|3-4||Lost ALCS to BOS|
|2003||NYY||101-61||3-1||Won ALDS over MIN|
|4-3||Won ALCS over BOS|
|2-4||Lost WS to FLA|
|2002||NYY||103-58||1-3||Lost ALDS to ANA|
|2001||NYY||95-65||3-2||Won ALDS over OAK|
|4-1||Won ALCS over SEA|
|3-4||Lost WS to ARI|
|2000||NYY||87-74||3-2||Won ALDS over OAK|
|4-2||Won ALCS over SEA|
|4-1||Won WS over NYM|
|1999||NYY||98-64||3-0||Won ALDS over TEX|
|4-1||Won ALCS over BOS|
|4-0||Won WS over ATL|
|1998||NYY||114-48||3-0||Won ALDS over TEX|
|4-2||Won ALCS over CLE|
|4-0||Won WS over SD|
|1997||NYY||96-66||2-3||Lost ALDS to CLE|
|1996||NYY||92-70||3-1||Won ALDS over TEX|
|4-1||Won ALCS over BAL|
|4-2||Won WS over ATL|
|1982||ATL||89-73||0-3||Lost NLCS to STL|
The Phillies and Rockies are tied at 1 in a series that resumes at 10:07 p.m. ET today, following Saturday's postponement due to bad weather in Denver. Preceding that game will be two others that also could result in early sweeps. The Angels won their first two games at home like the Dodgers, and they play at Boston starting at 12:07 p.m. ET. The Yankees visit the Twins at 6:07 p.m. ET, following a pair of New York victories at home.
"The end of the season will give you an idea," Torre said in describing the dangers of contemplating a parallel to the 1996 Yankees. "I think it's the only time you sort of take a peek up at the finish line; 162 games, you don't even think about the finish line until you get to where you can sort of feel it or touch it. And it's dangerous. It really is."
Baseball is a fixture in everyone's consciousness at this time of year, and Torre is chiseled into its image. He is always here. It is his record 14th consecutive postseason as a manager, the last two with the Dodgers. They were in first place consecutively for longer than any team this season, then had to scuffle to clinch the NL West on the final weekend, and now any questions about whether they can "flip the light switch" back on seem to have been answered.
Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake played against Torre's Yankee clubs for much of this decade, including the 2007 AL Division Series, while with Cleveland. He said it has been amazing to see the side of Torre that the public rarely sees.
"I love Joe. He's like a father figure to a lot of guys in here," Blake said. "He's just a cool dude. Great manager. He's fun to play for.
"I didn't know what it would be like to play for him. I'd heard he was a great guy. He seemed pretty solid over there with the Yankees. I didn't know if he had a sense of humor. You just always saw him kind of sitting there in the dugout, and I never knew him other than that. He's been fun to play for."
This NLDS could not have gone much more perfectly for Torre's Dodgers. They survived two top NL Cy Young Award candidates in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright -- and then kept both of them waiting in the "shadows" as Torre later described it -- by cruising to a 5-1 Game 3 victory in front Busch Stadium's largest crowd.
Any of the remaining seven clubs easily could be imagined celebrating a World Series title. You could imagine Torre managing against Pedro Martinez again if the Phillies advance, and maybe against the Yankees -- something so many fans are hoping for out loud. You could imagine him managing against the Rockies in a rematch of their final-weekend showdown series, and against his old Red Sox rivals -- with Manny going back to Boston.
Maybe Torre will find himself managing against the Twins in another postseason, and one that would be a rematch of the 1965 Fall Classic. What if there is a Freeway Series in L.A.? And what if this is as far as the playoff road goes for the Dodgers again, just like last year? That was Torre's first season as Dodgers manager, so in two years he has seen his club sweep.
"It's the value of winning," Torre said. "Even though personalities aren't the same, I think these guys all understand that if they unite and help each other, that we can do something special. We've had some strange road trips, some strange homestands, and I got to the point in August saying, 'We'll be all right.' Because I couldn't think of anything else. You try to fix something, and then all of a sudden we go to San Francisco after a bad homestand, and we show up against the Giants. That's the way this ballclub has been. They show up to go to work, and they certainly did in this series. "This was a good example of winning the game the other day the way we did at home, and then to come here and be all full of yourself and sort of lolligag throughout the game, but there wasn't any part of that."
Torre has seen it all. He is the only manager who knows what it feels like to squander a 3-0 lead in a postseason series (2004 American League Championship Series, when the Yankees lost to the Red Sox). He managed a dynasty in one major market with arguably baseball's most famous franchise. He then was hired to make something like that happen with the franchise that has drawn more fans than any other.
If you want to know how it works in the inner sanctum for Torre, just consider this exchange with reporters in the pregame media session before Game 3.
Question: "If there's a Game 4 tomorrow, is there anything you'd change with Chris Carpenter going for St. Louis?"
Torre: "I'm not really going to discuss Game 4. I'm not trying to blow you off or anything, but I don't want to do that right now. I guess it's superstition."
Question: "[Chad] Billingsley has had a number of games, including one here, where he sails through five and everything goes kind of haywire into six. How do you stop him from having those episodes?"
Torre: "That's a Game 4 question. I'm not going to discuss Game 4."
There will be no Game 4. The moment is now.
It is Joe Torre's time of year.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.