Donnie Baseball returns to LA with no hard feelings

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Don Mattingly sat in his usual spot on the top of the dugout bench. Except he was wearing a black hat and jersey with a multi-colored `M’ on the front.

Yep, Donnie Baseball was back at Dodger Stadium on Monday night for the first time as the visiting manager. He brought a Miami Marlins team that is fourth in the NL East, 7 1/2 games behind first-place Washington.

In the home dugout, first-time manager Dave Roberts has the Dodgers atop the NL West by 2 1/2 games.

But Mattingly insists he wouldn’t change a thing. He said last fall was the right time to leave Los Angeles after five years as the Dodgers’ manager and three consecutive division titles. Officially, the convoluted explanation was that both sides reached a mutual parting of the ways.

“Pretty much everything here was a positive experience for me other than us not being able to take it to the next level,” Mattingly said.

He departed in October, not long after the Dodgers lost 3-2 to the New York Mets in a decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series. The Dodgers haven’t been in the World Series since 1988, when they won it.

The Dodgers showed a brief video of Mattingly’s years in LA before his pre-game introduction. He received a mixture of cheers and boos.

“He’s a great guy, you still miss him and the guys that were here last year,” Dodgers left fielder Kike Hernandez said. “I loved everything about last year and I’m always going to be thankful for the opportunity he gave me. Just really thankful to him for letting me be myself.”

Viewing a throng of media behind mirrored sunglasses, Mattingly refused to throw any of his former bosses under the bus. He said stories about the Dodgers front office dictating lineups and how to handle mercurial outfielder Yasiel Puig “got overplayed a little bit.”

“No, we’re not going to throw at him,” a smiling Mattingly said of the Cuban. “There’s not one thing that ever happened that wasn’t about him growing, being a better player and teammate. It was nothing personal. That’s what I tried to do. Maybe didn’t succeed in some areas.”

Mattingly worked last season under the new tandem of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi, who had greater hands-on management than what Mattingly had been used to under the previous regime. Between Zaidi’s expertise in advanced analytics and Friedman’s reputation for building a roster by crunching numbers, Mattingly had a plethora of data at his disposal.

“I enjoyed Andrew and Farhan a lot,” he said. “They think a little different, but that didn’t make it bad thinking in my mind. I learned a lot.”

Among his favorite Dodgers memories were winning the first of three consecutive division titles and “being able to watch their young lefty grow up,” he said, referring to two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. “That’s pretty special.”

Moving to Miami reunited Mattingly with former Dodger second baseman Dee Gordon, who had already made the same move via a trade.

“I was very happy when I heard,” Gordon said. “He brings good direction, good leadership, so it was very good.”

With the Marlins, Mattingly has a group of young, mostly unproven players. Team owner Jeffrey Luria is an unabashed Mattingly fan from his years as a Yankees star and the two speak weekly, which is more than Mattingly ever heard from any of the Dodgers’ ownership group.

“I like the situation I’m in,” he said. “I love the challenge of what we’re trying to do here. I feel the same pressure to win here as I did on the other side.”

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

Blue Jays roster and schedule
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”