CINCINNATI — Dusty Baker missed the Cincinnati Reds' division title celebration, still recovering from a heart issue and a mini-stroke in a Chicago hospital. One win away from the NL championship series and another celebration, he came up short.
The Reds are giving him another chance to take his team deep into the postseason.
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The 63-year-old manager agreed to a two-year contract extension Monday, the same length as his last deal. The Reds have won the NL Central title in two of the last three years under Baker, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Reds have won 169 games in the last three seasons, their best such showing in 30 years. Their two division titles in three years mark their best stretch since Sparky Anderson led the Big Red Machine to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76.
The next challenge is to take that next step — the Reds haven't reached the NL championship series since 1995.
"In Dusty's five seasons here, he's taken us to the postseason twice and has proven he can lead our teams to championship-caliber play on the field," owner Bob Castellini said. "He's the right manager to continue the building process that will take us deeper and deeper into the playoffs in the future."
During his first two seasons, Baker presided over the club's rebuilding from a team reliant upon homers — an offense built around Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn — to one that wins with pitching and defense.
The Reds reached the playoffs ahead of schedule in 2010, then got swept by the Phillies as their inexperience showed. They took a step back last year, when three of their five starters got hurt or became ill during spring training.
The Reds won 97 games and the NL Central again this season and took the first two games of their division series in San Francisco. They also suffered a significant setback when 19-game winner Johnny Cueto pulled muscles in his right side during the first inning of the playoff opener, which cost Cincinnati its ace.
The Reds dropped the next three at home, a devastating collapse as Baker reached the end of his deal.
"It was disheartening to have my club go through this," Baker said.
He acknowledged that he wasn't sure whether ownership would bring him back. He got his answer quickly.
Baker was hospitalized for four days in Chicago in September for an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke, missing the team's clinching win. He returned for the final series of the regular season and the playoffs.
Baker was a hard-hitting outfielder with the Atlanta Braves, getting his first promotion to the majors in 1966. His greatest moments as a player came with the Dodgers. He helped Los Angeles reach the World Series three times and win it in 1981. He played 19 years overall with the Braves, Dodgers, Giants and Athletics, making the All-Star game six times. He won two Silver Slugger awards and one Gold Glove.
He has set himself apart as a manager.
Baker is one of only six managers to win division titles with three teams, along with Billy Martin, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson. When the Reds got their 90th win this season, it gave him seven seasons of reaching the mark.