Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart considered what it would be like to celebrate a division title without the manager who made it possible. It wouldn’t be nearly so satisfying without Dusty Baker doing some dousing.
The Reds skipper missed a third straight game on Friday because of problems caused by an irregular heartbeat. Doctors in Chicago advised him to spend one more night in a hospital there before traveling to Cincinnati for a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Reds’ clinching number was down to one after the St. Louis Cardinals lost on Friday in Chicago 5-4 in 11 innings, setting up the possibility that Cincinnati could end up celebrating later in the night without its manager.
”It would be bittersweet,” Cozart said. ”We’re all still thinking about him and wish he were here. He’ll be with us in spirit. I guess we’ve got to go out there and win one for the skipper.”
The 63-year-old Baker was hospitalized in Chicago on Wednesday because of symptoms from an irregular heartbeat that he’s had for some time. The Reds swept the series against the Cubs, putting themselves in position to clinch their second division title in three years at home.
The Reds weren’t sure when Baker would be allowed to rejoin the team.
”He’s fine,” said bench coach Chris Speier, who took over Baker’s duties. ”They want to make sure before they put him on a plane – he has some fluids (built up) – make sure that’s all taken care of. But yeah, you worry about him. He’s our leader, and for me, just a dear, dear friend. My mind is more with him than it is about this game.”
The Reds clinched at least a wild-card berth in Chicago, but weren’t going to celebrate until they got the division title, even if they had to do it without Baker.
”It would be a little disappointing,” infielder Todd Frazier said. ”Knowing Dusty, he would want us to get it done as quickly as possible. If he’s not here, I know he’ll be celebrating with us in spirit.”
Baker made out the lineups for the two games he missed in Chicago. Speier took care of it on Friday, deciding to rest left fielder Ryan Ludwick one more day to let a sore groin heal. He also put Cozart back in the starting lineup for the first time in two weeks. Cozart missed 14 games with strained muscles in his left side.
Speier wasn’t sure whether left-handed closer Aroldis Chapman would be cleared by the medical staff to play in the series. He hadn’t appeared in a game since Sept. 10 because of a tired pitching shoulder.
”If he’s available and there’s an opportunity to use him, I’m not going to hesitate,” Speier said. ”I don’t know what role I would put him in the first time back, but it would be good to get him back on the mound.”
The Dodgers were fading from the wild-card race after losing 10 of 14. Atlanta and St. Louis were in position to get the two NL wild cards, with Milwaukee 2 1/2 games back and the Dodgers three games out.
”We’re in a very advantageous position to allow our guys to maybe take an extra day of rest, make sure they don’t reinjure something,” Speier said. ”It’s not like the club we’re playing. They’re fighting every day to get to those playoff scenarios. We’re in a pretty good position.”
And the playoffs were right in front of them.
The Cardinals’ game was shown on the videoboard during batting practice at Great American Ball Park, replacing the customary music. The Dodgers were taking batting practice when the Cubs won it, drawing cheers from the few thousand fans in the stands.
Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz was in the batting cage and paused at the sound of the cheers. Other Dodgers looked up and smiled, too, happy that one of the teams they’re chasing for the wild card had lost.
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips tweeted about the Cubs’ rally from the clubhouse. The Reds knew they were one win away from clinching, and that Baker wouldn’t be there if they did so.
”He’s been so instrumental in everything we do,” outfielder Drew Stubbs said. ”He’s our leader, from putting the lineups out there to managing pitch-by-pitch.”
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