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Angels general manager continues to support Mike Scioscia

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Jerry Dipoto stands behind the manager, who has received criticism as the Angels remain behind in the American League wild-card race as they go into a big three-game series against Texas.

September 18, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times

Within seconds of Mike Scioscia's latest decision-gone-horribly-wrong Saturday night in Kansas City, when he pulled starter Zack Greinke in the ninth inning with a 2-0 lead and closer Ernesto Frieri gave up two home runs for a 3-2 loss, fans began spewing vitriol toward the Angels manager on Twitter. Again.

It has become a typical, predictable and somewhat tiresome pattern: key move doesn't work out, scream at television, go to keyboard, type "fire the manager!" hit send button.

While Jerry Dipoto may not agree with what seems to be a growing number of fans clamoring for Scioscia to be canned in this season of unfulfilled expectations, the Angels general manager can empathize with such anguish and frustration.

Growing up a New York Mets fan in New Jersey, Dipoto criticized managers such as Joe Torre and Davey Johnson with as much fervor as fans are hammering Scioscia, though Dipoto didn't have the vast array of electronic media outlets at his disposal that fans have today.

Dipoto has vivid memories of his reaction to Johnson leaving Doc Gooden in to face a supposedly weak left-handed-hitting Dodgers catcher in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 1988 National League championship series.

With one of the league's best left-handed relievers, Randy Myers, in the bullpen, the right-handed and tiring Gooden — he threw 133 pitches — gave up a score-tying, two-run homer, the Dodgers won in 12 innings to even the best-of-seven series, two games apiece, and they went on to win the series.

That Dodgers catcher who hit that series-turning home run? Scioscia, of course.

"I remember thinking, 'What are you doing?'" Dipoto, a college sophomore at the time, said of Johnson, now the Washington Nationals manager. "I certainly understand the critical nature of the fan, because I've been one all my life. You're naturally critical. The ebbs and flows of a baseball season bring that on."

Dipoto, having blown his share of saves in seven years as a big league reliever and having spent more than a decade in various front-office positions, has developed a different perspective on the moves he used to second-guess.

And now that he has the power to fire a manager whose decisions he may not like, Dipoto has a broader, more rational view of the game and how he evaluates those playing and managing it.

"When you're the closer, the last pitcher in the game, and the manager, the guy who is making the decisions, there is no safety net," Dipoto said. "It's awfully hard to always operate without a net, and occasionally, you're going to fail. That's the reality of the game. I don't know a manager whose every move has worked the way he wanted it to. I don't know a closer who has converted every save.

"It's a humbling game, and no matter how good you are, any decision you make, any acquisition you make, it doesn't always work out. I can't allow myself, in my position, to get wrapped up in the day-to-day elation and irritation that can affect you. You have to look at it through a more balanced lens."

A mere 12 hours after Saturday night's gut-wrenching loss punctured the Angels' playoff hopes — they were 21/2 games behind Baltimore for the second American League wild-card spot entering Monday and open a huge three-game series against Texas at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night — Dipoto backed his manager.

"In this particular instance, Ernie is your closer, he has a sub-2.00 earned-run average, he's been as good as you can be all season — when are you ever wrong when you go to your closer?" Dipoto said. "I think you're getting into a very fine line of criticism to go that route.

"Most people second-guess a move after it's made, but by and large, when you have a guy who's been that good, who's converted the opportunities he's had, I don't know if you're ever wrong with a move like that."

Had Greinke remained in the game and given up a two-run homer, Scioscia would have been bashed for leaving his starter in. That's the life of a big league manager.

Whether Twitter and Internet message boards have simply given greater voice to irate fans, or Scioscia is actually being criticized more than he has been in the past, is difficult or almost impossible to discern. But clearly Scioscia, who is signed through 2018, has been taking a lot of heat this season.

Dipoto continues to support Scioscia, citing his "great track record of success," and he refuses to fuel any speculation that Scioscia will be fired if the Angels don't make the playoffs for the third straight season.

The road ahead is difficult. Nine of the Angels' remaining 15 games are against division-leaders Texas and Chicago. Wild-card leading Oakland begins a 10-game trip to Detroit, New York and Texas on Tuesday, but Baltimore has an easier path, with 13 of its final 16 games against Toronto, Boston and Seattle.

"You have to look at the 162-game season," Dipoto said. "There are two weeks left, and two weeks in baseball can be an eternity. We have 21/2 games of separation. That can take care of itself in three days. Or two weeks might not be enough. At this point, I won't qualify this season as a disappointment."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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