LOS ANGELES - For much of his professional life, Don Mattingly was intimately tied to the postseason by the fact that he wasn't in it. It still is not too late for him to burnish a different October legacy, but he probably better do it soon.
Mattingly's future as Dodgers manager is a hot topic here, considering the richness of his roster and the absence of a World Series during his five-year run. Add in the fact that he was inherited, not hired, by the team's first-year president Andrew Friedman, and it sure looks like the pressure is on every decision Mattingly will make in the National League Division Series against the Mets.
He already has made a couple big ones, choosing to start Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 Friday night despite the fact Kershaw's postseasons have been mostly nightmares and Zack Greinke might be the Cy Young Award winner. "We didn't really feel like we could make a bad choice with that," the manager said.
Mattingly also has made it clear that midseason call-up Corey Seager, 21, has supplanted veteran Jimmy Rollins as the starting shortstop.
Yet another decision probably was made for him Wednesday, with outfielder Scott Van Slyke saying before the morning workout that he is out of the Mets series because of an injured right wrist. That seems to indicate that Yasiel Puig will have a spot on the roster, despite having spent five weeks on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.
No matter how all of this works out, Mattingly is ready for the fallout. He knows more than anyone in his clubhouse how precious this time of year is. Mattingly is considered the greatest Yankee never to have played in the World Series, having been the bridge between the Bronx Zoo Yankees (he played with Willie Randolph, Rich Gossage, Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles) and the Core Four (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte all debuted in Mattingly's last season, 1995).
Of course, it is common knowledge that his only postseason appearance as a player occurred in his final days, and it was a strong one. He hit .417 and had six RBIs in five games, and he drove home two runs in his last game, an 11-inning loss against the Mariners 20 years ago Thursday.
He knows October offers the risk of heartbreak. So be it. "It's going to be there. We just know that playoffs are a time when there's a lot on the line, every game is really important," he said. "So kind of embrace it, rather than worry about it."
At least he never had to bench a player because his hair was too long, as Stump Merrill once did to Mattingly when the latter's trusses violated Yankees policy. And he does have a winning percentage, .551, that is better than any Dodgers manager since Walter Alston, plus he is the only one ever to lead the Dodgers into three consecutive postseasons.
Still, this might be the last chance for Donnie Baseball to make "Postseason" his middle name.