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You spoke the last two nights how your lineup has become more patient, more selective. Was there a point this season apart from the acquisition of Manny where you said this thing is going in the direction it needs to go?
Yes. I thought we played that weird weekend against the Angels here and we won that game where we didn't get any hits. We beat them two out of three, and then went into Houston, won three out of four, and San Francisco. Felt like things were starting to flow.
We still had some hiccups and all that stuff, but I just felt we're more consistent in sort of working the counts and having an idea. And then Donny came on board, which was shortly after that at the All Star break even though players had seen him from time to time on road trips.
And what I think Don Mattingly has done is pretty much simplified the plan for each one. It's not the plan for everyone. He does it according to their ability. But he gave them a work ethic and just daily routines I guess is a better way to put it where it sort of simplified to getting ready for a game.
You've seen Rich Harden over in the American League several times. What types of problems does he present? The Cubs are very confident with him on the hill.
I don't blame them. His record over there has been pretty impressive, and he's had some physical problems over the years. But Rich Harden is one of those guys that can dominate a game. He can overpower you, and then he has a breaking ball to keep you off the fastball.
So the whole thing we have to do is just to maintain our patience and try not to get caught up in trying to swing the bat as hard as he throws the ball. To me, what we've done here the last couple of days, with two pitchers that have thrown the ball pretty hard, is to try to maintain patience and try to get something we can handle. What I like to call controlled aggressiveness as opposed to being aggressive period and swinging at everything you see.
Again, the trick about Harden is what looks like a strike will not turn out to be a strike because of the movement he has at the end.
So hopefully, again, we're home now. We went into Chicago as the visitors, the underdogs and all that stuff, and I thought we maintained composure pretty well. Trying to keep from getting too excited here.
Can you talk about the handling of the Jeff Kent situation, the veteran, and how you've dealt with all that and how Jeff's dealing with it?
There's really no situation. I was asked about, which certainly reasonable questions about both Nomar and Jeff, the two veterans who have played regular for the most part. Nomar when he was healthy.
And Nomar's case, he's been healthy and he's been playing off the bench well for us, playing him at first or third, wherever we need him, maybe a double switch.
Jeff is a different story. He had surgery about a month ago. He came back, and we had a conversation in San Francisco, and he's playing a couple of games. He felt like he could play. But, basically, said that it's my decision and he would certainly respect that.
And that's where we are. To me the meeting was necessary based on the fact that, first of all, it's Jeff Kent. He's been a regular player. I didn't want to write a lineup without explaining to him why I'm writing a lineup.
When I say he wants to play, that doesn't mean that he's angry with anybody. That's what I think got a little bit misunderstood. I certainly expect him to want to play. Physically he's better, knee wise, and he can go out there. But I felt that I told him I'd rather have him play off the bench. And he said fine.
When I say he says fine, that doesn't mean he doesn't want to play. But on the other side of the coin, I think the respecting the manager's decision on doing something is something, I think, is first and foremost in our conversation.
Is he his knee okay to play second base?
He could play second base, not that he doesn't feel his knee. But, again, he played a little bit. He seems to handle it okay. I played him at first base, I think it was on Saturday in San Francisco, and I said this gives me another option in case we do pinch hit and we want to choose to make a double switch. So you get a couple of different options. He said that would be no problem playing first base.
We've seen what Manny has done himself, but how has he helped the rest of the lineup and who do you think specifically has benefited from maybe having Manny in front of him or behind him?
I think they've all enjoyed it, especially the young kids who haven't been exposed to that.
To me, I keep going back to Casey Blake. When he came on board, Casey really doesn't say a whole lot about the way he went about playing the game and preparing for the game I thought was a good example for these youngsters. Because when you're inexperienced and you have a tendency to get excited when it gets good and you get overly depressed when it's bad.
I think Casey showed him whether you make an error or hit a home run, it's a job. You have to go out there every day and be that same person. And Manny came on board. And I think -- because again, early on we've been giving these players a lot to try to digest in how important the winning is, how important preparation is and being that same player every day.
And I think Manny, when he came on board, everybody was certainly, the young players especially, in awe of a player like that in our lineup, because of what he has done over there in the American League.
And I think Manny showed them that they can combine the let's have fun playing this game and the work ethic. That's the one thing I think that gets lost in Manny, is we've seen all the rolling around and stuff like that that one of the networks chooses to do all the time.
But it's sort of like Manny will be under your Christmas tree this Christmas. So he's a toy or something. But he's a hell of a player. And I don't know what went on in Boston. Obviously both parties needed to split up. But since he's come over here, his work ethic, there's a lot of games on the road that he beat me to the ballpark because he does a lot of cage work. This is something that he just didn't invent.
So I think they got a piece of that from watching him show up here, enjoy playing the game. And I think it's sort of relieved some of the tension that some of these guys maybe played under.
How comfortable are you with Saito as your closer after last night?
Saito last night, he had pitched on Saturday and I was very comfortable watching him pitch on Saturday. We had him ready for Wednesday, and then when we picked up the extra run I decided to use Greg there. Threw a couple times on Wednesday. Yesterday winning 10 1 and he comes in. It just didn't look like he was the same guy as Saturday.
But checking with him, he didn't have any physical problems. I think maybe the score got in the way. That's just my feeling. Hopefully that's the case. I haven't had any reports of any physical problems.
When I saw that he was just having trouble locating last night, I just wanted to take him out as opposed to having him throw 25 or 30 pitches out there for no reason.
I still have a great deal of confidence in handing him the ball if it's that kind of situation.
You saw this probably for years in Boston, and I think you probably got a glimpse of it the last two games, but it seems like Cubs fans, when things start going bad, they just throw up their hands and the sky is falling. How much do you think it will help them just to be away from that environment?
I think that's a good point, because I'm a believer that in post season, when you play at home there's a lot of pressure on you to play well and win. You're supposed to win. I think we have that on us right now, especially winning the last two games.
But in the Cubs' case, yeah, you're right, there's some similarities to Boston, where it's sort of like, oh, here we go again or that type of mentality. And to me I think that gets overdone. But you can't ignore it, because everybody asks you questions about it, and I think in the back of your mind you feel you should win because you're home.
And I think there was a lot of -- probably these guys had to deal with a lot of pressure. I mean, pressure aside from the game pressure. That's the whole trick. But I think getting away is certainly, certainly can't hurt them. I think the biggest problem for them right now is they're down two games to none. But I don't think it's necessarily a negative going on the road for them.
Are you surprised at the way the Cubs are playing in these series or just simply the Dodgers are the better team?
Well, we've been the better team the last two days. I can't say whether we're the better team. But yesterday I'm surprised, yes, because when you watch Derrek Lee make an error, he doesn't do that. I've seen him stick his glove -- I don't care, he always comes up with the baseball. When everybody in the infield makes an error, that certainly is a surprise. I mean, they're a solid ball club.
Yesterday we were able to take advantage of that. But the other day I think it was more a product of our being patient as opposed to their not being able to win. The thing is Derrek Lee shut down their offense after they got the two runs and just we were able to keep doing some good things.
What do you expect from Kuroda tomorrow?
We know he's the only one that got sleep. That's the one thing I can say. And hopefully he's the pitcher he has been before against the Chicago Cubs. He's pitched against them very well. Pitched 14, 15 innings or something and hasn't given up a whole lot. He had a lead in Chicago that one night, real cold night. And hopefully he can go out there and just establish a rhythm.
And I think for most pitchers -- and I was really proud of Chad Billingsley last night. He got himself in trouble early with Soriano getting the base hit and then the wild pitch, and he just locked it in right from there on out.
I think it's going to be important for Hiro to go out there and get in the rhythm early.
Do you think that all of the historical nonsense that swirled around the Cubs actually acts as a detriment to team performance?
I don't know that. I mean, it's all individual. To me, I know they're all asked about the question. And I think in Boston, because that's my only comparison, I think the players sort of got tired of it and just sort of dismissing it. It's a little different mentality. I don't know the Cubs as well as I knew Boston because we played them so often.
But it's just something else they have to address. Whether it affects anything, I can't really say for sure. But for sure the way you want your home fans to help you is to go out there, get a lead. They did that first game.
You can tell, and even yesterday, early on, the fans were excited. And I thought Zambrano I know he was the losing pitcher, but I thought he competed really well.
But it's tough to have your fans help you when you fall behind the way they did yesterday.
Zambrano had a curious look at the series now after we talked to him. He said that he feels the pressure is on you guys now because you have to close it out.
I agree. I agree. Depending on you start the series and you have the Cubs, and I put the Cubs and Tampa and the Angels in the same boat. They dominated all year long. And they were the only clubs that really basically went wire to wire.
And now, you know, we're up two games. We need to win one more game and we have to do that. We have to do that. So I agree. And we're home. Plus we're supposed to do it. So hopefully my ball club will go out with the same business like attitude that we've had the last couple of days. But we certainly will talk about it.
Furcal has been on base five times already. How confident were you that you were going to get these kind of contributions from him and how important is the speed dimension he brings in the playoffs?
Just his unpredictability and the fact that he's a leader. I mean, he's a big leader for us in that clubhouse, in the dugout and he was missed sorely this year. Berroa filled in, but he can only do so much. And I was really pleased he wanted to get that first hit and now it looks like he's the natural guy. He really was -- he really hadn't had a lot of at bats and he played six innings in San Francisco. And I was kicking myself the other day when I took DeWitt out for defense without checking with him first when he played the first night, but he said he was fine and then last night there was given no consideration to even ask him.
But he's been huge for us. What he does in the top of the lineup, switch hitter, speed, like the bunt last night, that certainly was choreographed by him, and he just adds a big dimension to our club.
You talked about what Casey Blake has meant as far as helping keep an even keel. And that's something you were obviously so well known for with the Yankees for instilling that. Can you talk about who you learned that from and go back a little bit?
Well, I'm not sure. I go back and I remember. Kenny Boyer, I used to watch him. I said, yeah, I know exactly what you feel like; you make an out or whatever you do, you sort of go in the dugout, it's not like you're not grinding inside. What I used to do with the Cardinals, I'd make an out or hit into a double play which I did quite often. I'd go in there and I'd put my hands up and never show any emotion.
I'm not saying it's a good thing, it's just what I did. And I used to pull these steel spikes out of the wall, which was so dangerous and stupid. But that's how angry I used to be.
But I don't know why I've been that way. But probably never wanted to give the opposing pitcher the satisfaction to know that he ruffled my feathers, so to speak. I think that's the way it started and once you become a manager and you realize how much attention the media and the TV pays to what you do, I certainly was aware of not being too demonstrative in situations, because sometimes that can be misunderstood also.
And I get angry if I see somebody do something stupid. In other words, lack of preparation or just do something without thinking. That irritates me more so than somebody striking out and the bases loaded or hitting into a double play or making an error, because that's all part of the game.
But I'm not sure who I learned it from but I was always sort of that guy that never wanted anybody to know what was going on.
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