SAN FRANCISCO – Joe Torre finds himself in such unfamiliar territory this September: His team is playing for pride and to shake up a pennant race, rather than preparing for a playoff spot.
It hasn't been an easy thing to accept, either. Not for a 70-year-old manager so accustomed to deep October runs year after year in three largely successful decades as a skipper. Including four World Series titles in 12 seasons leading the New York Yankees.
"It is a strange feeling for me," Torre said Tuesday before Los Angeles opened a three-game series against the contending San Francisco Giants. "In a lot of ways it's relaxing, I hate to say. But we're in a position now that other clubs have been in the last couple years against us, where they're trying to impact the pennant race by playing havoc with the teams that are in it. That's our job now. Hopefully we'll play that way. I expect us to."
It's been 17 years — since 1993 with the St. Louis Cardinals — that Torre last missed the playoffs managing a full season.
His Dodgers are fourth in the talented NL West after winning the division in each of his first two seasons. Los Angeles lost the NL championship series both years to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Torre is disappointed. So is general manager Ned Colletti, who made several big moves at the trade deadline in an effort to get the Dodgers back in the division race.
"It wears on me because as a manager, if things don't go well I feel it's my fault, because that's my job," Torre said. "Not to take the blame but to find a way to make it better. I'm not sitting here like a martyr because I've had a pretty good run here. It's still my job and I'm happy to say it still gets me excited, it still gets me frustrated. That's a good sign for me, that I've never had the emotion of saying 'So what,' or 'What's the difference?' I'm happy about that."
Now, Torre appears as if he could be ready to walk away when his contract is up next month — though he is yet to make a formal announcement about his plans. Whether that would mean he's done managing for good is unclear. There's thought he might return to manage the New York Mets again one day.
"I've got a pretty good idea what I'm going to do next," Torre said with a chuckle.
Still, he's not reflecting on things yet, not until everything is done and he's back home and away from the pressures and grind of a 162-game season.
"I wish I could have done a better job in just being able to find a way to make us get better," Torre said. "There's a lot of areas we did well over the course of the year and in '08 and '09 I thought our young players really developed. This year they have been very inconsistent. I always felt pretty proud of myself to be able to find the right words. This year has been pretty frustrating in that regard."
Torre can't point to exactly went wrong. He would like to, but can't.
"I don't know. If I had that answer, maybe it wouldn't have happened," he said. "As soon as you think you have something solved, in my job or your job, somebody comes up and bops you."