Indians' Acta is main Man(ny)
The downtown ballpark, pulsating at times this season like it hasn't in years, suddenly filled with a familiar chant.
Manny Acta swears he didn't hear it.
As the Indians' second-year manager walked coolly back to the dugout after being ejected for arguing a close play that didn't go his team's way in the eighth inning against Boston, Acta's eyes stayed fixed on the green grass under his cleats as Cleveland fans serenaded him.
''Man-ny, Man-ny,'' they sang.
Acta joked that it was for a former Indians star, the Manny with dreadlocks.
''It could have been Manny Ramirez walking into the stadium right then,'' he quipped. ''There are a bunch of Mannys in this game.''
But in Cleveland, there's only one Manny - the manager of the best team in baseball.
While others shake and scratch their heads at the Indians' early success, now a nearly two-month run fueled by remarkable starting pitching, solid defense, contributions by the entire lineup and a little luck despite a rash of key injuries, the 42-year-old Acta isn't surprised at all.
He expected the Indians to win, demanded it of them, really, since the first day of training camp. They're right where he figured they'd be.
But don't think for a second that he's satisfied.
''Everyone of these guys knows it's a long season, you can never get satisfied,'' he said. ''There's a long ways to go. We can't be doing any jumping up and down. It's pretty good right now, but I want to be 45-0. I've got a right to have expectations, right? As high and as improbable as that might sound.''
The Indians are winning, and a sizable chunk of the credit has to go to Acta.
''He has been doing an incredible job,'' second baseman Orlando Cabrera said. ''I have been really impressed with his attitude, the way he prepares himself. Before every series, he's incredible. Oh my God, the attention to detail is unreal. He gets up early every morning and reads every single research paper and number they (the Indians' front office) give to him.
''Not too many guys prepare themselves like that.''
Nothing seems out of reach for these Indians, who recently won 14 straight at home and have made walk-off wins so common at Progressive Field that the team could almost hype them along with their other game-night promotions.
Acta, an interesting blend of smarts (he's an avid reader) and swagger, has his players believing anything is possible as long as they remain patient and work hard.
That's what's gotten him here, and it's where he intends to stay.
He's not going to blow his second - and maybe last - chance as a big-league manager.
Acta spent two tough seasons in Washington, where he did as much babysitting as managing. The Nationals lost 252 games in 2 1/2 seasons under Acta, who didn't have enough talent to overcome numerous injuries that altered his lineup.
It was much the same way during his first season in Cleveland. Injuries forced the Indians to play rookies who weren't ready. But they finished strong, posting the league's third-best record in the second half, a surge that convinced Acta his team was ready to contend in 2011.
With his team sitting atop the AL Central, Acta was asked what the season has meant to him.
''Rewarding,'' he said. ''It reassures me that patience is what it takes. It's being patient and continuing to work, and at the end of the day, good things are going to happen.''
Acta has been pushing all the right buttons.
He's done an exceptional job with his pitching staff, knowing exactly when to pull his starter or let him try to get one more out. The Indians have been aggressive on the basepaths, and Acta has shown a knack for calling for a bunt in a tight spot.
Last week, he told rookie Ezequiel Carrera to bunt - if he saw a good pitch - in the eighth inning of a tie game with Cincinnati. Carrera's first at-bat in the majors turned into a one-pitch, game-winning RBI single. How's that for having a 'feel' for the game?
The next day, outfielder Travis Buck, filling in at designated hitter for the injured Travis Hafner, came back to the dugout after a pair of weak at-bats only to have Acta give him an earful. Acta was stern with Buck, but not condescending or abusive.
Acta wanted more, and he didn't waste a single word in telling Buck, who was initially shocked.
''He lit a fire under me,'' Buck said. ''His tone was intense. I didn't really know how to take it. I've never had a manager say something like that to me and want to pull for me as hard as he did. It made sense. It took me a couple minutes for me to figure it out. It made me realize how much confidence I need to have in myself, and how much he had in me.''
His next time up, Buck hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the seventh inning as the Indians beat the Reds, 2-1.
Cleveland's players love Acta's straightforward approach. He's demanding, not demeaning. He's honest, sometimes brutally, with them and makes sure everyone on the 25-man roster knows what's expected of them. But for every kick in the pants, he offers a pat on the back.
Acta also know his place. He respects the sanctity of the clubhouse, and won't interfere with the players' business unless he has to.
''He leaves us alone,'' Cabrera said. ''He's a guy who says, 'You guys handle your stuff and I'll handle mine.' I've told some of the guys, you have no idea how good you have it here. Most managers aren't that way.''
The reaction following Acta's ejection - the Indians wound up rallying to beat the Red Sox after he got tossed - caught several players off guard. It's rare to see fans cheering and chanting for a manager, but Acta has become a man(ny) of the people.
One of his first duties each morning, is to connect with his followers on Twitter. He reluctantly joined the social website at the team's urging before the season, but has grown to enjoy it. And, it's not the only thing he's having fun with these days.
''I can't complain with my life right now,'' he said.