Joe Maddon and Terry Collins walked into the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, but only one came out with a job.

It was 1997 and the two were interviewing for the Angels' managing gig -- something that would either propel Maddon from minor-league purgatory or give Collins a chance to redeem himself after three frustrating seasons with the Astros.

"That is the first time I really had an in-depth conversation with T.C.," said Maddon, whose Cubs will face Collins' Mets in the National League Championship Series beginning Saturday night.

Collins got the job, but Maddon got Collins' attention. "From that conversation, he kept me on as a bench coach," Maddon said. "I could have been sent out to the minor leagues again, and then who knows what would have happened."

So Collins managed the Angels and Maddon, who "was into the computers," Collins said, helped introduce modern technology to an ancient pastime.

It was just one stop for two careers that have been inexorably linked since the 1980s, when they met while Collins was biding his time with the Dodgers' organization and Maddon, a catcher who never made it past Class A ball, was knocking around the Angels' organization, doing everything from scouting to managing.

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Now the two will meet again, and riding on the coattails of all that personal history is a whole lot more history.

The Cubs haven't made the World Series since 1945 and haven't won it since 1908, but Maddon, who was manager of the year twice with the Rays, won the American League pennant in 2008.

This is Collins' first trip to the playoffs, and though the Mets' drought is shorter -- they haven't won the World Series since 1986 -- they, too, have paid their penance in big-time collapses and dark, hopeless years.

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They've each managed more than 1,600 games. "Cubs and Mets together, we're really excited about it," Maddon said. "I think that's great. It's going to be fun. It's a great series and I think it's a great series for baseball.''

In addition to the classic matchup -- big bats against power arms -- it serves as further endorsement of Maddon's intellectual style of managing, a trait that dates to the days when Collins hired him and gave him a long leash not heard of for bench coaches at the time.

"I remember specifically, you talk about shifting today and all the stuff that's going on," Maddon said. "I had this more Neanderthal method of doing things , but it was still one of the first computers utilized . . . I showed [Collins] some graphic sheet of Ken Griffey Jr., and I said, 'T.C. . . . , would you mind if we shifted him tonight?' . . . He was all for it.''

Maddon kept chipping away after that. After Collins resigned from the Angels in 1999, Maddon served his second stint as interim manager. He eventually nabbed the then-Devil Rays' job in 2006 and still is grateful to Collins for giving him a break almost 20 years ago.

"Nobody was more thrilled than I was when he finally got his chance in Tampa Bay," Collins said. "I'm real, real happy for him and real proud of him."

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So Saturday night begins another chapter in the history of Maddon and Collins. Just like that day in the Biltmore, two managers will walk in, but only one will come out the winner.