Collins, Gibbons among 4 managers making playoff debuts

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2 Point Lead: Things Mets Fans Say


NEW YORK (AP) -- Late in the season, as the New York Mets closed in on their NL East championship, one opponent after another sat in the visitors' dugout at Citi Field and commended manager Terry Collins.

"Real happy for T.C.," was the sentiment echoed by Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez and others.

The popular Collins, at 66 the oldest manager in the majors and the consummate example of a baseball lifer, is about to make his playoff managerial debut. He's one of four bench bosses who reached the postseason for the first time this year - each the fulfillment of a unique journey.

"It means a lot to me," Collins said late last week. "We sat up here and we told our fan base and our media that it's going to get better and next year we're going to win. And then to be sitting today and say we told you, it means a lot. It does."

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Texas rookie Jeff Banister, Toronto retread John Gibbons and Houston whiz kid A.J. Hinch are the other managers making their initial October moves this month.

In his second stint running the Blue Jays, Gibbons finally guided them to their first playoff berth in 22 years. The AL East champs host Banister and the Rangers on Thursday in the opener of their best-of-five Division Series.

"I was able to exhale a little bit," Gibbons said. "A lot of satisfaction."

Now comes the hard part.

Even the first-timers are well aware that being a novice is no picnic in the playoffs, when every pressure-packed decision gets magnified and scrutinized. Plenty of successful managers, from Casey Stengel and Grady Little years ago to Matt Williams and Ned Yost just last season, have been widely criticized - even vilified - for fateful moves gone wrong.

This time of year, fans are not forgiving.

"The first thing you have to do is forget about the regular season," said Hall of Fame hockey coach Scotty Bowman, who chatted with Gibbons behind the batting cage Saturday before the Blue Jays faced Tampa Bay. "The way you played in the season is probably not going to be good enough. You've got to be a little better."

Bowman won a record nine Stanley Cups. Meanwhile, Collins and the rest of this year's playoff neophytes have been working their entire careers to earn one shot at a World Series ring.

"I'm a baseball guy and I'm a baseball development guy," said Collins, who leads the Mets against the Dodgers beginning Friday night in Los Angeles. "This summer, all I did was write the lineup and try to keep the clubhouse a fun place to be, and it worked out. So I was pretty happy the other day when we won that thing."

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Hinch gets the first crack at winning in the playoffs when his surprising Astros play at Yankee Stadium in the AL wild-card game Tuesday night.

"Octobers usually come through New York. At least they have in my career," he said Monday.

Hinch was 34 and by far the youngest manager in the majors when the Stanford graduate took over the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009.

With no previous experience in that role, his ineffective tenure didn't last long. But he's been a big hit this year in his first season piloting the young Astros.

"Very open door. Very much a player's manager. For us, that's great. We need a guy like that, that lets us play," Houston ace Dallas Keuchel said. "Kind of a trial by fire, but he has our backs. That's what he's done all year."

Collins' career could hardly be more opposite. He managed in Japan and Venezuela, Vero Beach and Buffalo. He coached with Tampa Bay, scouted for the Chicago Cubs and spent more than a decade all told with the Dodgers during separate stints in their storied farm system.

Along the way, the diminutive pepper pot developed a fiery reputation and seemingly crossed paths with almost everyone working in baseball. Still, he likes to joke about how his wife calls him "an idiot" whenever a pinch hitter or pitching change backfires.

Collins managed Triple-A Albuquerque to a 1987 minor league championship in the Pacific Coast League. But until now, his only chance to wear a big league uniform in the postseason came as mentor Jim Leyland's bullpen coach with the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Once he got his opportunity to manage in the majors, Collins finished in second place five times during the 1990s, his Astros and Angels teams squandering several late leads.

This time around, New York made needed moves to upgrade its muddling offense before the July 31 trade deadline. Given enough talent to win for the first time during his five-year tenure, Collins steered the Mets expertly as they pulled away from heavily favored Washington to claim their first playoff spot since 2006.

"In my years of managing in the major leagues, I never had these kind of changes on my team, and I was in pennant races for five straight years until the last week," Collins said. "Now I see what the difference can make. I certainly wish I would have known that at those times because I would have pushed a lot harder to make some moves."

His own task with the Mets has been complicated, though. New York often juggled its rotation down the stretch to rest its prized young pitchers - front-office decisions that sometimes ran counter to Collins' old-school instincts.

"He says things when he needs to, but he's definitely not on us all the time," Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson said. "Lets us go ahead and learn from our bruises - all right, we fell down, we've got to find a way to pick ourselves back up."

Entering his first postseason as a manager, that's one move Collins mastered long ago.

RANKING EVERY MLB STADIUM:

30 PHOTOS
Ranking MLB stadiums
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Collins, Gibbons among 4 managers making playoff debuts

30. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays

The playing surface is a mixture of grass and artificial turf, and there are fire inspection rings in play over head. Must be a joy to play in.

(AP Photo)

29. Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays

The only things worse than this warehouse-looking place are the metric measurements on the outfield walls.

(Shutterstock)

28. O.co Coliseum, Oakland A's

Any place sewage seeps back through the clubhouse drains probably isn’t a suitable location for pro sports.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

27. Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas Rangers

Remember when this place was state of the art? Neither do we.

(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)

26. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox

What’s more bland than the Chicago White Sox? Their uniforms. What’s worse than that? The stadium.

(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

25. Turner Field, Atlanta Braves

This place won’t live to see its 20th birthday. Good luck to the Braves’ next home, which will probably still always be empty, too.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

24. Marlins Park, Miami Marlins

Makes perfect sense for an orange and teal team to play in a stadium with neon green everything. Also, has anyone ever figured out what exactly this is? 

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

23. Angel Stadium, Los Angeles Angels

Nothin’ like some fake rocks in center field to really set the mood for a baseball game.

Flickr

22. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians

The fact that it’s no longer Jacobs Field bumps this down at least five spots.

Flickr

21. Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals

Can this place just stay out of the playoffs just once?

Flickr

20. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds

How cheap is that wind tunnel?

 (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

19. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks

Center field is the deepest part of the stadium, guys. The wall doesn’t need to be that high.

Clintus McGintus/Flickr

18. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees

Great place to see the best baseball players of the 20th century.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

17. Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers

Bernie sliding down that slide for every home run is ridiculous and awesome at the same time. Every time.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

16. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies

Once you get over the fact that some little league parks have deeper fences? Cool place to catch a game.

 (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

15. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers

They should probably just name it Vin Scully Stadium at this point. Might help them out in these rankings.

 (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

14. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals

The scoreboard being shaped like a long crown is a bit odd, but you can’t blame them for playing up the whole royalty thing.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

13. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies

If it’s not a blizzard in Denver, Coors Field is still pretty impressive. But let’s lose those humidors and get these balls flying like its 2001. 

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

12. Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers

Credit to the grounds crew for making sure the infield didn’t collapse through the ground while Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera manned the corners. That approached a good 600 pounds of man.

 (AP Photo/Matt Halip)

11. Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros

Get back to us next year, once that ridiculous hill and flag pole are scrapped.

(AP Photo/Bob Levey)

10. Target Field, Minnesota Twins

You probably won’t want to sit outside in Minnesota until about mid-June, but after that, Target Field is tough to beat.

 (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

9. Citi Field, New York Mets

Ownership may be fresh out of cash, but at least its stadium has an awesome selection of $12 beers. 

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

8. Nationals Park, Washington Nationals

It’s been seven years, and the team just can’t sell these naming rights. Strangely, this makes the park even cooler.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

7. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners

For a stadium that opened up in 1999, the Mariners’ digs have held up pretty well -- even when their roster hasn’t.

 (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

6.. Petco Park, San Diego Padres

Fun fact: An old candy factory building was physically moved to make room for the stadium. 

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

5. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox

Relax, Fenway is definitely an amazing place to watch a game. But sitting directly behind a pole and/or facing the left-center field wall just isn’t always appealing.

(Shutterstock)

4. Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs

We’re glad the Cubs decided to keep their old home intact, but there’s no two ways about it: Until renovation is complete, Wrigley is a dump.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

3. PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates

After two decades under .500, the Pirates are finally playing some winning ball again. Good thing, because their park deserves as many games as possible.

 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles

Still as beautiful as the day it opened in 1992, Camden Yards is headed toward becoming the next legendary American ballpark. 

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

1. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants

Already 15 years and three names later, AT&T Park remains the best place to watch a Major League Baseball game. Between the amazing food, packed-out stands and the glistening bay in right field, San Francisco is lucky to call it home. 

(AP Photo)

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