PITTSBURGH — For the third time in four years the Cincinnati Reds are in the postseason, an accomplishment many teams have never achieved or even come close or even dared to dream about.
That, though, isn’t enough for some fans who are starved for success in the postseason and point out that manager Dusty Baker is 0 for his last 8 in elimination games.
And Tuesday night’s one-game wild card game is definitely an elimination game. Those fans, though, conveniently shove into the closet the fact that until Baker arrived the Reds hadn’t been in the postseason since 1995. Nor had they produced a winning season in more than a decade.
Baker changed all that, but it remains, “Not enough. What more can you do for us right now?” Baker understands that but doesn’t agree with it.
“I’m proud that I’ve been around just about the same time as a lot of my players just got to the big leagues,”he said. “I’ve been the only manager a lot of these guys ever had. We’ve trained them, tutored them, we’re still teaching them.”
The team’s success in the last four years is often buried under the frustrations of the team not carrying its success through the playoffs.
“A lot of people don’t appreciate what we’ve put together here and for what we’ve done,” said Baker. “We live in a society where there is only one room at the top. I like to think if we keep persevering we can move into the top.
“It hurts to go home, hurts to lose,” he said. “I can’t imagine losing and going home right now.”
And when Tuesday night’s was about to begin, the Reds didn’t burst from the clubhouse pumping their fists and screaming, “Kill, kill, kill.” This is baseball, not football. It is a game of finesse, not a game of brutishness. Fans criticize Baker for not lighting a bonfire under his team’s posterior and for not giving them a Vince Lombardi speech.
“You want things to be the same as they were before the playoffs,” said Baker. “I’ve been to a lot of playoffs and the thing you don’t want is a difference in personality. You want the personality of the team to be the same or else you put more pressure on yourself than is already there. You want to increase concentration, you want to increase determination and perseverance and you want to maintain relaxation. The team that plays the most relaxed, but not sleepy, is the team that performs well.”
The rookie everybody is talking about, Blazing Billy Hamilton, was included on the roster for Tuesday’s game, but was not in the starting lineup.
“Our expectations from Hamilton is just to help us win,” said Baker. “The hard part about using Hamilton is waiting for the most opportune time to use his (base-running) skills.”
Baker said there was no consideration to starting the 22-year-old outfielder.
“He’s not ready for that, not to start,” said Baker. “People are making a star out of him ahead of scheduled because he is so exciting. But let us not forget that he just began switch-hitting a year ago just starting playing center field a year ago. There are still some things he needs to learn.”
At this time last year, after the Reds won the National League Central and began play in the NLDS, Baker was coming off a stroke near the end of the season.
“I was pretty weak and not real clear-headed,” he said. “It was even tough for me to go to the interview room because there were things I wanted to say but I couldn’t think of them. I couldn’t put things into words. At this time last year my family and I were pretty apprehensive and nervous.”
Baker is healthy this season, thinking clearly, plotting thoughtfully, and hoping the team’s nest stop is St. Louis and not a long winter’s nap.