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October 14, 2009

Joe Torre


Q. What specific differences do you see in this Dodger roster from the one last season that played in the LCS against the Phillies?
JOE TORRE: Well, I think experience, the addition of some experienced people here. You know, Belliard for one, plus the experience they had from last year, I think, were very different, Padilla being an addition, also, Kershaw, where he was last year at this time to this year.
I think experience mainly is the big difference. I mean, our record last year, winning the division, even though we beat the Cubs, was one of like two separate seasons. This year we've been pretty consistent all year long. Even during our bad streak, we were merely about two or three games under .500 during that streak.
We've been holding the line pretty well, so I think the experience and the consistency is the difference.

Q. With the emergence of some of the younger guys in your bullpen, with the addition of a guy like Sherrill, how is what you're able to do with your bullpen kind of evolved over the course of this season?
JOE TORRE: That's what normally happens. Really one of the unknowns was one of the main guys last year, and that was Kuo. It took him time to get back to where he is that guy that you hand the ball to. But as you say, Sherrill was huge, because we spent a good portion of the year working through the eighth inning, seventh and eighth inning. Sherrill comes on board, and not only does he give us that eighth-inning guy, but he gives us the ability to do what we did in St. Louis, and we did it against the Cubs, where you can flip flop him and Boston and stuff like that. So he's given us a lot more stability at the end.
And then Kuo, he's a guy that can pitch in the sixth, or he can pitch in the seventh. We've limited him to one inning, and we'll continue to do that. But again, lefty, righty is insignificant for us in that situation.

Q. The Phillies are trying to become the first team since you and your Yankees repeated. What makes it so difficult, because it's so rare?
JOE TORRE: Well, first off, you've got a Bullseye on your back. That's one. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up. And then if you have a young pitcher that nobody knows, it seems to be a challenge to that young man to show what they can do against the world champs or those teams.
So I think when you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there. But again, when you get there, when you get to the postseason -- and the Phillies, they've experienced those ups and downs. They go through and have a good streak, and they went into Washington and struggled, or I think they went down to Houston and got swept. But the thing about it, when you have a ballclub that has been as consistent, in other words, knowing they're good, they rebound from things like that. I think that's the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they've been.
Early in the year this year they didn't win any games at home. It didn't seem to bother them. They just kept plugging away. I think that's why they're so good. Not to mention the talent they have. When you look down that lineup, a couple of switch hitters at the top and then a couple of left-handers and then Werth who's that blue collar guy, you may compare him a little bit to Casey Blake type of individual, they're going to fight you every step of the way. They're a ballclub that has a purpose -- they have a purpose out there, and we certainly are aware of it.

Q. It didn't happen to you in 1996 with the Yankees, but you talked a little bit about experience. It seems like teams finally get to the playoffs for the first time, and seldom do they win, but they come back the next year or the year after that. What is it about the playoffs that causes that? Is it the media, the attention, the hoopla?
JOE TORRE: I think it could be some of each. It's depending on what you characterize as a good year, getting to the playoffs, okay, we did this. For us it was very difficult the last week just to win the division. We had it locked up -- a playoff spot locked up, and then we just were terrible. We just couldn't go out there and play.
Now, does that mean you can't handle pressure? Well, we couldn't handle that pressure we put on ourselves, but I think the pressure of the game makes it a little different.
I think depending on what you call a good year, last year our ballclub winning the division was sort of looked down upon because our division supposedly wasn't very good because of the record. So I think what made our year last year was beating the Cubs, who had the best record in baseball. This year we have a lot more responsibility. We have the best record in the National League, and we had the best record this year. With that is the expectations.
But I think more than anything else is the experience you do have the one year and how far you go helps you sort of push that limit a little bit further.

Q. In terms of the Dodgers being a different team this October than last October, individually Kemp and Ethier, how different are they as players this October versus last, and how would you describe it?
JOE TORRE: An enormous difference in both of them. Kemp I think has come a little bit -- he needed to because he hadn't played a whole lot of baseball. Ethier was with Oakland. You could see he had all the ability to be a good hitter.
I think what helped both of them this year was going into spring training a year ago, I had the four guys for the three spots, and they were sort of auditioning all the time, part of it because we signed a center fielder, Andruw Jones, who was going to play center field, and you certainly couldn't ignore Juan Pierre because he played every single game the year before, and now you had to sort of mix in the other two less experienced outfielders.
I think a lot of it last year was one of those pressure years, especially in the first half, trying to show us that they could play. This year right from the getgo they were the regular players. Matt Kemp especially, last year he used to beat himself up when he'd make a mistake or mess up on the bases, whatever it was. This year he lets it go quicker, and that to me is a huge difference where he doesn't let his next inning or next at bat be affected by something that went wrong.
He is a tough competitor, this kid. And you can see he always had the tools, right from the first day that you saw him you saw balls jump off his bat and his speed and all that. But he certainly has come quicker than I ever expected him to.
And Ethier, I mean, that's been sort of a little bit of a slower maturation for him. I think sometimes he even surprised himself in how calm he is in some tough situations. But they're huge. These two kids were huge, especially with Manny missing the 50 games that he did, not to mention Juan Pierre. I certainly don't want to ignore the contribution that Juan makes, even when he doesn't play, to this ballclub.

Q. Could you talk about the decision to start Kershaw in Game 1, and also, the rest of your rotation as far as you've planned it? And do you have any roster changes?
JOE TORRE: You know, we're not going to give the -- because we haven't finalized the rosters at this point in time. We have an idea what we want to do. Not everybody has been informed.
I came on Kershaw, first off, like when we pitched him in Game 2 against the Cardinals instead of Game 1, we were flirting with Game 1 against the Cardinals. We felt let the veteran handle the hoopla and stuff like that in Game 1.
But really a big part of -- I don't want to say trusting him because that's not the right word for him -- but just feeling comfortable with -- that he wouldn't be affected by things around him was the Saturday, the last Saturday of the season. We handed him the ball to basically win the division for us, where if he had lost that game on Saturday, we'd have been tied with the Rockies with one game to play.
So I don't think there's any game that was more important than that game. So that played a big part in our decision to do this. Plus I thought he pitched well against the Cardinals. Didn't maybe have his best stuff, but I thought he pitched with what he had very effectively and probably would have given up only one run in that game, but again, we had a ball lost in the sun and stuff like that, or in the lights, whatever it was, and just -- he's another kid who's from the start of this year, I think once June came around, he was a completely different pitcher for us.
And the rest of it, Padilla, off of what he did in St. Louis and how effective he was, seven innings was the most he's pitched for us at any time this year, and I thought he was consistent. I thought his command was great and his stuff. Again, he has great stuff. Handling the whole St. Louis scene, I think that told us a lot.
Kuroda, I really didn't have -- I wasn't hopeful that he would be ready for this round with the way things started with him, and that's why I thought it was important that Honeycutt and I both go to Arizona yesterday, to see that and not leave that decision to somebody else, to tell us how he did.
I was comfortable watching him. He felt real good today. It was hot. I mean, it was in the 90s yesterday probably, and even though he had some short innings, I thought his stuff was consistent, got a little bored there for a while. But physically he's been throwing, so this is the first time really he's pitched. But he's been throwing, and I thought he used all his pitches, and I thought his command was good.
Again, he may not be as good as we want him to be, but still, off of what he did for us last year, it's something that we felt we wanted to give a shot to.

Q. So Game 2 --
JOE TORRE: Game 2 is Padilla, Game 3 is Kuroda, Game 4 is Randy Wolf.

Q. How much of an impact did the home run that Matt Stairs hit last year in Game 4 have on the acquisition of Jim Thome?
JOE TORRE: Yeah, it's good. I think he's the same type of threat. He's a guy that you hope that you have somebody in the bullpen to come get.
But that certainly -- when Jim Thome's name was brought up to me, that's the first thing I thought of, not Matt Stairs, but the fact that he really keeps the other manager knowing that this guy is liable to come off at any time, and he could tie a game, he could win a game, things like that. It's similar to Matt, for sure.
The bench last year, we didn't have near the bench that we have right now, and I think between bench and bullpen, we feel we're very comfortable with what we have.

Q. Given what happened last year against the Phillies, how important is it for your pitchers to work both sides of the plate, and to show command both inside and outside and not be afraid of that kind of thing?
JOE TORRE: I think it's important all year long to do that. But last year, got out of hand over there on us. I thought the next game when we played it back here, sort of showed that we could pitch effectively. But I think we learned from that, there's no question. But again, it's something that you always encourage pitchers to do, and you make sure that you're able to go out there and make sure that you have a presence as far as knowing what's yours and what's theirs, basically.

Q. You had Furcal in the LCS last year, but he was obviously not at full strength. How much of a difference does it make to have him 100 percent and playing as well as he is right now?
JOE TORRE: He's been huge. He's made a huge difference, and you can see the Phillies; they have Jimmy Rollins and Victorino up top, two switch-hitters that can hit a ball out of the ballpark, stuff like that.
But yeah, we pushed the envelope with Fukie last year in the postseason because we felt his presence meant so much to us, and over the last five weeks or so, six weeks, he's been a different player than he was earlier in the year when it looked like he was just trying to hit everything too hard.
But I think it really changes our lineup and sort of gives us a little more structure, and a little tougher to deal with, hopefully.

Q. What kind of an evolution have you seen in Boston since he first became the closer, and just generally speaking in the postseason how big of an advantage is it to have a bullpen like that where it's so deep and effective?
JOE TORRE: Yeah, I think Sherrill really made a difference in our bullpen, there's no question. He sort of put things in order.
As far as Brox, I think a lot of things helped him evolve into the closer he is. He was a setup man here when I got here. Saito had physical problems last year, so he was closing from time to time. But I think he still felt it wasn't his job. I think he was a little hesitant about grabbing it. Finishing off the Cubs the way he did last year I thought was a step for him. Being picked for the Baseball Classic I thought was a step of recognition for him.
And when he came back from that, he just was a different -- completely different pitcher than he was last year for me. He was much more confident in throwing all his pitches any time, and again, he's probably more important than anything else, when he's had maybe a bad outing, he's rebounded from that very well. And the only thing that unfortunately he was shy about was telling us that his foot hurt back midway through the season. But knock on wood, that hasn't been an issue for us.
But he's a horse right now. And again, when that last series started and I called both he and George in to express what my thinking was on approaching the Cardinal guys with all those right-handers, they certainly understood. So they didn't have any ego issues, especially in Brox's case in pitching the eighth inning.

Q. Can you talk about what it's like getting ready to face Ryan Howard with the way he's been hitting with guys on base, especially in the postseason?
JOE TORRE: He's tough. Again, a lot of it depends on how well we do with the hitters in front of him. It's the same way we feel with Manny. You get the top of the order out, it makes it a little easier to deal with him when you don't have to pitch to him.
But I notice that Ryan Howard is much more selective. Of course he's dangerous because he can hit a ball out of any part of the ballpark. But I think the big part about having to deal with him is how well they do ahead of him. And Utley is probably as good a hitter as you can find, especially the confidence that he has, not being afraid to get behind in the count.
Our goal is going to be obviously to not put him in a situation where we have to pitch to him with men on base.

Q. Circling back on Furcal real quick, I'm sure you remember the Game 5 he had last year against the Phillies, in that whole series he struggled and clearly he was still hurt like you alluded to --
JOE TORRE: He had a separate injury last year, his neck from throwing and all that stuff, but never uttered a sound about it.

Q. He is a guy who does sort of seem to bear the burden of his failures a little bit more than other guys; he really wants to do well. I'm wondering, due to that, if this series might be very important to him because of what a difficult time he had last year in the series, and also what it now means to him to be playing well.
JOE TORRE: Well, if we see any evidence that he's putting more pressure than he normally does on himself, we'll address that. I think right now he's in a pretty good place. I think he feels very confident and comfortable. There's no question that this Cardinal club that we beat, the amount of work and the calm that we had to have to go through what we went through against those starting pitchers, you know, whether we succeed or not succeed in this series, we certainly are ready to play it.
In Fukie's case, I just send him out there. As I say, if I see something that I think he's trying to overdo, we'll talk about it.

Q. Can you address the value of George Sherrill, especially against this lefty-heavy Phillies lineup? It sounds like you're ready and willing to flip flop your eighth and ninth inning guys again.
JOE TORRE: I don't see flip flopping against this group, that that's going to be the case. I'm not afraid of Sherrill against right-handers, when you're talking about Albert Pujols. I'm afraid of anybody against Albert Pujols.
But I don't see their lineup makeup as needing to flip flop them. But I certainly trust them. I wouldn't hesitate pitching him in the ninth inning. You're over there and you have a tie game or stuff like that, he can pitch in the ninth inning. It probably wouldn't really matter who was coming up in my mind at this point in time.
But he's changed not only the structure but the whole personality of what we've been able to do down there the second half since we got him. And plus the fact that he came over here and the first thing we addressed is who's the closer and who's the setup man, and he had absolutely no problem with what his job was here.
But his presence and his experience and his personality, he's quite a personality. These guys all seem to gravitate towards him because he's a fun guy to be around.

Q. If you can remember back, when did you first become acquainted with Charlie Manuel, and when you compare your route to the top of the profession with Charlie's, do you ever marvel at how the sport just affords so many different kind of people so many different paths to the top?
JOE TORRE: You're right. You never know when it's supposed to happen. I remember Charlie was the hitting coach over there in Cleveland when I was the first time with the Yankees. Easy man to talk to. One of the kindest men that you'd ever want to be around. I was privileged to have him pick me as one of his coaches in the All-Star game this year, and it was great to be around him.
But you're right. You get fired a couple of times, and all of a sudden you wonder if that thing is ever going to happen. To go over there to Philly about the same time that Thome did, and to have -- Philly is tough. We all know Philly is tough, very impatient fans and media and whatnot, and he was able to ride the tide and do what he did last year. And now all of a sudden it's -- he certainly is capable, and he has a nice calm way about him. And probably more important than anything else, he knows what the hell he's doing, which I think we all get questioned at one time or another. But he certainly has been consistent with that group.
Just watch the way they play. It gives you an indication how they feel about him.

Q. It seems like aside from the home runs, all the big hits you had in that LDS were up the middle. Can you talk about Mattingly's approach as you go on?
JOE TORRE: Yeah, Donny and Jeff Pentland both -- Donny is obviously the hitting coach and puts the plan together. The thing that I admire about Donny, and this started a long way back when I took over as manager of the Yankees, and that was the year he retired because of his back, came on board as a celebrity coach in spring training a couple of years later and right when the first time he walked in the clubhouse he was looking to do something, help out. Never wanted to step on anybody's toes.
Very impressed. I thought I knew a lot about hitting until I started talking to him, about certain things that I really never recognized the association with. And he simplifies it for these players on a regular basis, puts in a ton of work, a ton of time, watching a lot of video and really gives them a plan. Gives them a plan. Doesn't beat them over the head with it, but he's very believable, and as I say, he's got a great way about him in communicating this, and he's there for every single one of them.
I mean, it could be Matt Kemp, it could be one of the nine catchers we have in spring training. He gets the same amount of time. So Donny is a special individual, and he's going to go a long way in this game.
But getting back to your question, it's certainly his influence on approaching these pitchers, and especially when you're talking about Carpenter and Wainwright, you play right into their hands when you're trying to pull the ball all the time. We use the middle of the field a lot, but it's really been something that he's done all year and last year when he came on board at mid-season.

Q. Earlier today on the Michael Kay Radio Show in New York, Peter Gammons intimated that you were having a difficult relationship with Dodger ownership and that's the reason why you said next year would likely be your last year. What's your response?
JOE TORRE: I think that said that I wouldn't be here next year. Somebody showed me this about three times today.
I don't know where it came from is what the answer is. Yesterday I said I probably wouldn't be managing after next year. But I thought -- somebody showed me an email, and it looked like I wasn't coming back after this year, which I know nothing about, either.
But my relationship is fine here. It's far from the living hell that it seems to say I was going through. You know, managing is tough during the course of the year, and you get worn out by the time the year is over, especially when you get to this time of year. But you get regenerated for the postseason.
But I know nothing about where that came from, and as I say, I still have the same plan that I've always had.

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