Baker equates 2012 Reds to 2002 Giants

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Baker equates 2012 Reds to 2002 Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- Long ago, basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell shared with Dusty Baker the secret to winning with consistency: The players have to genuinely love each other.

Baker returns to San Francisco -- the place he played for one season and managed for 10 -- with the sole focus of ending the Giants' 2012 campaign. Not a loving scenario, but a decade after leading the Orange and Black to the World Series, Baker is plenty familiar with what it looks like when a team has clubhouse magic.

"Every team is different," Baker said. "I like this team. I genuinely like this team. It reminds me of the (2002) team I had (in San Francisco), when you genuinely like the players and they genuinely like each other. They can take you a long way by liking each other."

RATTO: Dusty isn't San Francisco's story anymore

Also similar to the 2002 Giants team, the 2012 Reds boast an MVP bat in the middle of the lineup. But 2010's most valuable National League player Joey Votto is limping into the playoffs after a 1-for-9 October. His manager isn't showing concern.

"Joey's trying to get his stroke," Baker acknowledged. "But you don't know. Joey might be setting you guys up."

Votto has 81 career at-bats in AT&T Park and just two home runs. His .284 average in San Francisco is a ball and chain on his .316 career average. Unlike Votto, though, Reds' Game 1 starter Johnny Cueto has enjoyed success on the shores of McCovey Cove.

It's a small sample size with just two career starts, but Cueto's 1.38 ERA suggest he enjoys pitching in San Francisco quite well.

"This is a big ballpark," Cueto said through an interpreter. "It's a pitching ballpark. I like to pitch here."

Based on the three-hitter he threw their way in Cincinnati last July, Cueto just likes facing the Giants. But the team he silenced over a year ago was decidedly different than the lineup he'll face on Saturday, specifically for the lack of Buster Posey and Hunter Pence in the heart of the order.

"I don't think anything (of the Giants' current lineup)," Cueto said with a smile. "All I have to do is do my job. I don't see the lineup. I don't know who is going to be in the lineup (Saturday). I have to do my job and they have to do their job."

Just minutes before, his manager explained how he needed to conserve energy so he could do his job. Baker, whose irregular heartbeat landed him in a hospital just in time for the mini-stroke he suffered two weeks ago, expects to be his active and involved self when the games begin.

"Assuredly so," Baker insisted, and you knew he meant it.

REWIND: Baker suffers mini-stroke
Baker, 63, is admittedly seeing the world with more appreciation after his latest flirtation with the Reaper, and the man who survived prostate cancer in 2000 is happy to be back in the Bay Area.

"This is my home," Baker said. "People know that I'm from here. My wife's from here. I still live here, part time. I don't know, I just like the people here. I like the attitude, it's my crowd of people."

Don't think Baker is entertaining thoughts of retiring back to his Sacramento home, though. While his contract is up when the Reds' season ends, he plans on managing an MLB team for a 20th time next year. After postseason butterflies woke him -- against his preference -- at 6 a.m. Friday morning, Baker doesn't feel like his skills, or passion, are slipping. Just the opposite, in fact.

"I feel like I'm getting better," Baker stated confidently.

It's a scary thought for the man who is 20th all-time in wins and second only to Jim Leyland among active managers. Bruce Bochy is third on that list, trailing Baker by 131 victories.

The 2012 NLDS will pit two of baseball's elite managers against each other, managers who have fostered healthy clubhouse environments and winning attitudes in their respective cities.

The games in the best-of-five series will ultimately rule which clubhouse cultured more love, but it will be clear before the first pitch how much appreciation Baker receives from his home town crowd.

"We'll see if they still love me on Sunday," Baker said with a smile. "If we're 2-0, we'll see."

Former top prospect Andy Marte dies from car accident in Dominican Republic

Former top prospect Andy Marte dies from car accident in Dominican Republic

Former major leaguer Andy Marte died early Sunday from a traffic accident in his native Dominican Republic.

Metropolitan traffic authorities say Marte died when the Mercedes Benz he was driving hit a house along a road between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.

Marte, a 33-year-old infielder, played for several Major League teams, including Atlanta, Cleveland and Arizona, and was most recently playing in the Korean league.

Marte was playing in the Dominican winter league with the Aguilas Cibaenas team.

"We have awoken this Sunday with this sad news that we have lost a special being," club president Winston Llenas said in a statement about Marte.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Santiago Casilla says he never received offer from Giants

Santiago Casilla says he never received offer from Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the final month of his time with the Giants, it became clear that Santiago Casilla and the team would part ways. On Friday, Casilla confirmed that he never had the opportunity to return. 

On a conference call to announce a two-year deal with the Oakland A’s, Casilla said he “would have been happy to return to the Giants, but I never got an offer from them. I understood.”

Casilla said he had several opportunities to go elsewhere and close, mentioning the Milwaukee Brewers as one interested team. Casilla signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the A’s, who likely won’t need him to pitch in the ninth. The Brewers went on to bring in Neftali Feliz for one year and $5.35 million; he is expected to close. 

“I preferred to return to the Athletics because that’s where my career started,” Casilla said through interpreter Manolo Hernández Douen. “And I’m very excited.”

Casilla spent the first six years of his career with the A’s before crossing the bridge and becoming a key figure in three title runs. In seven seasons in San Francisco, he posted a 2.42 ERA and saved 123 games. Casilla had a 0.92 ERA in the postseason, but he was stripped of a prominent role in the weeks leading up to the 2016 playoffs. 

Casilla, 36, blew nine saves before being pulled from the ninth inning. He appeared just three times in the final 14 regular season games and just once in the playoffs. He did not take the mound in Game 4 of the NLDS, watching as five other relievers teamed up to give back a three-run lead. 

That moment stung Casilla, and it affected Bruce Bochy, too. The Giants struck quickly in December to bring Mark Melancon in as their new closer, but at the Winter Meetings, Bochy said he would welcome Casilla back in a setup role. 

“He’s a great team player (and) teammate,” Bochy said. “(I) certainly wouldn’t rule it out because he still has great stuff. And he had some hiccups there in that closing role, but I would take him anytime.”

As it turned out, that opportunity was never there for Casilla. The Giants didn’t make another move after the big deal with Melancon, and they’ll rely on younger arms to record most of the outs in the seventh and eighth. Casilla said he’s not bitter about the way it all ended. 

“I have left that in the past,” he said. “It’s a new year, it’s a new year. I have left this in the past.”