Brad Ausmus at ease as manager
LOS ANGELES -- Brad Ausmus didn't look out of place at all. It wasn't his office, his desk or his chair, but he seemed perfectly at ease using them, even with a throng of media standing in front of him and firing questions at him.
With his stellar major league catching career down to its final two games following the Los Angeles Dodgers' 7-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks before 36,713 on Friday night at Dodger Stadium -- a game in which Ausmus managed the Dodgers as part of Joe Torre's long-standing tradition of turning the team over to one of his players in a late-season game that doesn't matter -- Ausmus, perched confidently in Torre's office, seemed like a natural for a role many observers believe he will one day fill on a full-time basis somewhere.
Not so fast, says the man who among current major league players might be baseball's brightest managerial prospect.
"I'm not going to say that I don't [have that ambition], but I can't say 100 percent that I do," Ausmus said. "I might go home and decide that is where I want to be all the time. I wasn't even married until after I got to the big leagues, and I haven't been home with my family for more than three or four months at a time. They may decide they don't like me."
At a minimum, Ausmus, 41, sounds like a man who is looking forward to stepping away from the game that has basically consumed his life from the moment he was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in 1987 -- well, actually, it hasn't always totally consumed his life, because he managed to get all the way through Dartmouth while playing in the minors. The point is, he wants to spend at least a year at his home in Del Mar doing nothing but spending quality time with his wife and his two preteen daughters.
His final season in the majors has been a tough one, to be sure. He hit just .203, played in just 20 games -- he'll play in a 21st when he starts behind the plate in Sunday's season finale and his personal career finale -- and drove in a grand total of two runs. He missed most of the season after undergoing surgery in April to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. At the time, he was figured to be done, but he not only defied those odds but managed to get himself activated shortly after the All-Star break.
Ausmus felt then that he had unfinished business. He doesn't really feel that way now.
"I'm ready to stop playing," he said. "You can probably find a lot of people who will tell you I have overstayed my welcome at the major league level anyway. It has gotten to the point where not only do I need to get back to my family, because my kids are at an age where they probably won't want me around in a couple of years, but also, quite frankly, I just don't feel like I can play on a consistent basis.
"That has nothing to do with the back surgery, because I actually started feeling that way in spring training. But I wasn't going to walk away, because I had a contract."
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Ausmus came tantalizingly close to the almost unheard-of distinction of inserting himself in a game. If A.J. Ellis had gotten on base with two outs in the eighth inning, Ausmus would have sent Rafael Furcal to pinch run for him. With Rod Barajas having been burned as a pinch hitter two innings earlier, that would have left only Ausmus on the bench to catch the ninth.
Alas, Ellis took a called third strike, and Ausmus kept his seat. Assuming he doesn't play Saturday night, his final appearance Sunday will give him 1,971 games played over a 17-year career in the majors, most of them with the Houston Astros, a few of them with his adopted-hometown San Diego Padres and the final two with the Dodgers.
But he says that when he squats behind the plate and peers out at Ted Lilly at 1:10 p.m. PT, in a game between two second-division clubs just trying to get their dreary seasons over with, there won't be a single nostalgic thought in his brain.
"I don't know anything other than all business," Ausmus said. "I'll reflect on the road back to San Diego."
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"For me, it's just a matter of dealing with the pitching and how to handle that, more than anything. I'll see what I can do there. [Chad] Billingsley should just go all nine, and then we'll be OK." -- Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll, who will get his own shot at managing the team Saturday night before Joe Torre returns to the helm for one final game Sunday.
Billingsley (11-11, 3.61) will make his final start of the season in the year's penultimate game. He has alternated good starts and bad starts this month, so he'll need a good one to break that trend because he is due for a bad one. Diamondbacks left-hander Joe Saunders (9-16, 4.52) entered Friday tied with Baltimore's Kevin Millwood for the major league lead in losses. Ten of Saunders' losses came while still with the Los Angeles Angels, who traded him to the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren deal July 25.