Matheny enjoys first game as skipper
JUPITER, Fla. – The day Mike Matheny waited more than three months for a day that began Monday at about 4 a.m. local time, when he pulled into the parking lot at Roger Dean Stadium.
Roughly nine hours later, Matheny walked his first lineup card to home plate as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“There was no falling back asleep when I woke up the first time today,” Matheny said. “I probably needed somebody to check my pulse if I wasn’t like that.”
Unable to sleep with his managerial debut on tap, Matheny arrived well before dawn Monday to collect his thoughts, double-check the lineup and get in his usual morning workout in the gym.
The Cardinals eventually lost their spring opener to the Miami Marlins 4-3, but the score was likely the last thing Matheny will remember about the day.
“Today it was pure excitement,” Matheny said. “I couldn’t wait to watch these guys do their thing. I got quite a few questions about are you nervous and honestly and truly I wasn’t. I just couldn’t wait to go.”
Matheny was hired to replace future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa despite not having any previous coaching or managing experience. He served as a roving instructor within the Cardinals system last year, working mainly with catchers.
The former catcher won three consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Awards from 2002-04 during his five years in St. Louis and was a member of the 2004 National League Championship team.
Matheny watched from a bench near the on-deck circle when the Cardinals were in the field. He stood in the dugout near the steps when they were batting, sometimes resting a leg on a higher step as he surveyed the field.
The Cardinals quickly fell behind 4-0, giving him fewer opportunities to make tactical moves. But the few decisions he did make paid off, including in a three-run ninth inning where the Cardinals left the winning run on base.
With left-handed hitter Eric Komatsu scheduled to hit with two runners on base and one out in the bottom of the ninth and the Cardinals trailing 4-2, the Marlins went to their bullpen to bring in a lefty.
So Matheny made one of his first moves as manager, calling on the right-handed hitting Steven Hill to pinch-hit. The catcher came through, lining a hit up the middle that scored a run and brought the deficit to one at 4-3.
“Right now you watch it play out but certainly when we get into the later innings, we’re not going to let a win slip by because that becomes a habit,” Matheny said. “And we’d like to start the habit of winning as soon as possible.”
Matheny’s first game at the helm didn’t go completely as planned. He pinch-ran Pete Kozma as the go-ahead run in the ninth inning, but was left without any right-handed bats to pinch-hit when two lefties came up with one out in the ninth and the lefty still on the mound.
The first-year skipper stayed on the field for more than 20 minutes after the game to sign autographs for fans along the first base line. He then posted the roster for Tuesday’s bus trip to Port St. Lucie and met with the media to reflect on a memorable day.
“I didn’t really set an expectation because I just didn’t have any idea, but it was great,” Matheny said. “We get down early like that and you really can’t do a lot offensively. It’s just kind of trying to watch closely how everybody is doing.”
“That was fun. It was fun watching these guys compete.”
Asked what he planned to do with the lineup card that sat on his desk, Matheny said, “I have no plan as of yet. I haven’t thought about it.”
As prepared as Matheny has been thus far, what to do with the lineup card might be the only thing he hasn’t thought about.
He didn’t leave until after 6:30 p.m., ending a day that began more than 14 hours earlier. And chances are, he’ll have no problem falling asleep.