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PRO BASEBALL

Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia have been calming influence on Dodgers, Angels

Managers have remained a steady presence in a tumultuous season for both teams.

May 22, 2009|Dylan Hernandez and Mike DiGiovanna

Managers are always expecting the unexpected phone call.

The call that will relay news that a player is hurt, that a trade is about to be made or, as Joe Torre of the Dodgers likes to sometimes kid, that they've been fired.

But what could prepare Angels Manager Mike Scioscia for the call he received last month, telling him the unthinkable -- that rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was dead?

"There is no template, no instruction manual for dealing with what has happened," Scioscia said.

For Torre, the call he got two weeks ago carried no such tragic consequences but created shockwaves nonetheless. Manny Ramirez, the player who carried the Dodgers to the playoffs last fall, would be the first star player suspended for violating baseball's drug policy.

While the content of the crises is sharply disparate, each manager had to confront a difficult situation -- for Scioscia one that can't be compared. But it is possible to learn, in some small way, how unforeseen events are handled by these two men considered by many to be two of the best managers in baseball.

In the midst of turmoil, they have managed to keep their teams afloat, even thrive at times.

The Angels, who lost 13 of their first 22 games, are 21-19 and tonight begin the latest three-game installment of the Freeway Series only two games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West.

The Dodgers, who had the best record in the majors when Ramirez was handed a 50-game ban, remain baseball's best team at 29-13 and are nine games ahead of San Francisco in the National League West.

Ramirez is due back on July 3, meaning the Dodgers will be back at full strength after 37 more games.

For the Angels, the situation is much more complicated. No matter how many games they win, they'll never be the same. "It was a nightmare," Scioscia said of Adenhart's death. "We're in the process of resetting. There's not a magic moment where you're back to normal. We think about Nick every day."

The Angels were three games into the season when their world was shattered by the death of the 22-year-old Adenhart, who was killed in a traffic accident early on April 9, hours after throwing six shutout innings against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium.

While Adenhart's agent, Scott Boras, cried at a morning news conference, Scioscia kept his emotions in check as he talked about how proud he was of Adenhart's growth as a player and a person and how proud Adenhart's parents should be.

Later that afternoon, the Angels gathered in their clubhouse for a heart-wrenching meeting in which Adenhart's father, Jim, addressed the team. Scioscia also spoke, and though he declined to discuss specifics, he has remained steadfast in his message:

This isn't about how the Angels cope. It's about Adenhart's parents and family, and how nothing the Angels will endure can compare with the devastation of losing a child. And if you want to honor Adenhart, do it by playing good, hard, winning baseball. Let the field be your haven.

The Angels took the message to heart. "He handled the situation with Nick as professionally as you can," center fielder Torii Hunter said of Scioscia. "He showed a lot of respect for Nick and his family. He kept motivating us and trying to keep smiles on our faces, yet, he was having a hard time himself. He just didn't want all the players to really see what he was going through."

Said pitcher Joe Saunders: "You could tell inside that he was as shook up as we were, but he was trying to remain as strong as he could. As strong as he was, he kept us strong, too."

Still, though the Angels won their first game after Adenhart's death, they struggled to cope, losing five of their next six. It didn't help that, after losing pitchers John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar to injury, the lost their best hitter, Vladimir Guerrero, to a torn chest muscle.

Not until they held a private memorial for Adenhart on their field on April 23 did the Angels begin to get some closure. The team won 11 of its next 16 games.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers were about to get the rug pulled out from under them. Ramirez had let himself be found with abnormally high levels of synthetic testosterone in a drug test he knew he would have to take upon reporting to spring training.

As part of the review process, baseball obtained Ramirez's medical records and found a prescription for a banned substance. On May 6, Ramirez dropped his appeal and by the middle of the seventh inning of that night's game, dropped out of sight.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt since has maintained that he knew nothing of the situation until after the game ended, and that he phoned Torre and General Manager Ned Colletti after midnight to deliver the news. Yet sources with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they do not have permission to discuss the matter publicly, have said that Torre and McCourt learned of Ramirez's fate earlier that day.

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