Back in Bronx, Mat­tingly can guide Mar­lins to play­offs

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - ByStevenWi­ne

MI­AMI» DonMat­tingly re­turns this week­end to the Bronx, where his best years as a player al­ways ended when the reg­u­lar sea­son did.

Now Mat­tingly is en­joy­ing per­haps his best year as a man­ager, lead­ing theMi­amiMar­lins as they try to ex­tend their im­prob­a­ble sea­son into next week.

His young team is stag­ger­ing to­ward the fin­ish line, with four con­sec­u­tive losses head­ing into Thurs­day night’s game in At­lanta. But the Mar­lins still con­trol their own des­tiny, and­will visit the New York Yan­kees for a three-game se­ries hop­ing to clinch their first post­sea­son berth since 2003.

“No­body picked this club to be able to do any­thing this sea­son, but we be­lieved in our­selves,” Mat­tingly said. “It’s easy to be proud of these guys, the­way they have dealtwith ev­ery­thing.”

It would be rich irony for Mat­tingly’s team­to­clin­cha­post­sea­son spot in the new Yan­kee Sta­dium, right near the site of the old ball­park, where hewas anMVP, a bat­ting cham­pion and a six-time Al­lS­tar — but made the play­offs only inthe­fi­nal sea­sonof his 14-year ca­reer.

Mat­tingly was an over­achiever, and so are the Mar­lins. Their sea­son nearly de­railed at the start be­cause of a coro­n­avirus out­break that side­lined more than half the team, and even at full strength, they’re hardly world beat­ers.

The Mar­lins’ run dif­fer­en­tial is third worst in the NL, and their past 20 games in­clude losses by scores of 29-9, 11-0, 15-0 and 11-1. Among their 170 ros­ter moves, the Mar­lins have called up 12 pitch­ers tomake their­ma­jor league de­buts.

Even so, Mat­tingly has­man­aged to keep­Mi­ami in con­tention, a rar­efied achieve­ment for a fran­chise that has lost more games in the past decade than any other team.

Mat­tingly’s play­ers are quick to say their suc­cess is a re­flec­tion of their skip­per, and he’s con­sid­ered a strong con­tender for Na­tional League­m­an­ager of the year.

“He ob­vi­ously has done a phe­nom­e­nal job,” in­fielder Jon Berti said. “It’s a tes­ta­ment to himthat he kept us fo­cused on the mind­set of no­mat­ter who is in the club­house, we’ve­got a jobtodo, an­dour job is to win each day.”

The Mar­lins haven’t done that, but they have stayed in the race while nav­i­gat­ing a sched­ule back­loaded be­cause their sea­son was sus­pended for eight days dur­ing the virus out­break. They’ll play 28 games over the fi­nal 24 days.

A young, tal­ented ro­ta­tion would make the Mar­lins a dan­ger­ous play­off op­po­nent, how­ever, and the fran­chise is clearly trend­ing up­ward in­Year 3 of its re­build­ing project un­der CEO Derek Jeter.

Af­ter Jeter’s group bought the team in 2017, he jet­ti­soned much of the team’s star power, in­clud­ing Gian­carlo Stan­ton, Chris­tian Yelich, Mar­cell Ozuna and J.T. Real­muto.

But Jeter kept Mat­tingly, the man­ager since 2016. They first­met when Jeter­was an 18-year-old Yan­kees prospect.

In Mi­ami, Mat­tingly quickly em­braced Jeter’s re­build­ing plan, which re­quired short-term pain while a mori­bund farm sys­tem was for­ti­fied. Jeter de­cided Mat­tingly

was right for the job of de­vel­op­ing young play­ers while en­dur­ing lots of los­ing.

“Play­ers re­spect him,” Jeter said last month. “He has been through the ups and downs of play­ing ev­ery­day, andhe re­lates tothe guys.”

Mat­tingly led the Los Angeles Dodgers to three con­sec­u­tive NL West ti­tles in 2013-15, but those teams had large pay­rolls. The job has been­dif­fer­ent in­Mi­ami, where he’s 94 games un­der .500.

His pa­tience has been tested, and re­warded. One ex­am­ple: Lewis Brin­son, ac­quired in the Yelich trade.

In his first 200 games for Mat­tingly, Brin­son bat­ted .188. But he has made a break­through over the

past 27 games, bat­ting .306with an OPS of .860.

Mat­ting­ly­wasa19th-round­draft pick­whobe­came a star, andhe says that helps him re­late to play­ers at both ends of the tal­ent spec­trum.

“I was a guy that had to work my way through, and I try to have a men­tal­i­ty­with play­ers that says, ‘I un­der­stand where you’re at,’” he said. “I’m not go­ing to hold it against a guy when he has a bad day. You’ve got to show you con­tinue to be­lieve in them.”

Says closer Brandon Kint­zler: “Don­nie gets the game. He knows how hard it is.”

It’s so hard that even at Yan­kee Sta­dium, cel­e­brat­ing a play­off berth is some­thing spe­cial.

JEFF ROBER­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Mi­ami Mar­lins man­ager Don Mat­tingly re­turns this week­end to Yan­kee Sta­dium, where his best years as a player al­ways ended when the reg­u­lar sea­son did. Now Mat­tingly is en­joy­ing per­haps his best year as a man­ager, and his sur­pris­ing Mi­ami Mar­lins could be play­off-bound for the first time since 2003.

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