Amid revelry of title, Reds keep Dusty in thoughts

Amid revelry of title, Reds keep Dusty in thoughts

Amid revelry of title, Reds keep Dusty in thoughts
CINCINNATI -- The 2012 edition of the Reds most likely won't go down as one of the all-time great teams, especially compared with some of the franchise's storied outfits like the Big Red Machine.

This club was, however, this season's essence of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, this Reds bunch was a talented group that played some great baseball together.

"They believe in each other, that means a lot," Reds CEO Bob Castellini said. "Some people say we're a good team that plays great. I think we're a good team that's going to be a great team in the next few weeks."

And much of the credit for creating the successful atmosphere belonged to the one person who was unable to celebrate. While the Reds were partying on the field and the clubhouse after a 6-0 victory over the Dodgers that clinched the National League Central on Saturday, manager Dusty Baker was still in a Chicago hospital being treated for an irregular heartbeat.

"It's a shame Dusty wasn't here to experience it with us," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "We can't wait to have him back to celebrate with him."

The job of acting manager has been filled by bench coach Chris Speier. While the players were enjoying themselves, Speier and the coaches stayed out of sight. Speier would have preferred not leading the team on a night like this.

"I wish it was Dusty," Speier said. "He's the leader of this team and we all miss him. He'll be back real soon. These are real special moments and when you go through those, you want the people that had a lot to do with this moment to be here and experience it. I and all of us wish he was here."

Before the clubhouse was opened to the media and the celebration kicked into high gear, the players, coaches and front office took a moment to acknowledge Baker.

"We had a toast," third baseman Scott Rolen said. "Walt [Jocketty, the Reds' general manager] came in and we gathered around him and kind of had our own private thing. We miss Dusty. We know he's doing well and will be back soon. He's as big a part of this as anybody with the hours and time he puts in and the whole staff. He kind of digs this stuff, so it's a shame he's not here with us."

"He is here everywhere. He is here in spirit and everybody knows he's here," Castellini said. "We've got this downloaded to him in Chicago and we'll see him tomorrow. He's all over this clubhouse, whether you see him or not ... he's here."

It was Cincinnati's second NL Central title in three seasons, and Baker became only the third manager in franchise history to lead the team to multiple postseason berths.

No Reds skipper has done it since Sparky Anderson, who won the division five times and won two World Series in 1975-76.

Overall, the Reds have been to the World Series nine times and won five. Since division play began in 1969, they've won 10 division titles. But between reaching the NL Championship Series in 1995 until winning the NL Central in 2010, there was nothing to celebrate.

While the wait between division flags wasn't nearly as long as the last time, the feeling of having clinched again was certainly as satisfying. For the 37-year-old Rolen, who won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2006 and is in the final year of his contract with Cincinnati, this was worth appreciating.

"You have a pretty good idea when you're going to have them and it's not very often," Rolen said. "Some guys, it's never in their career. We have a nice thing going here and a good group of guys and players without question. You don't take anything for granted. You savor this moment and get ready for the playoffs and hopefully you can do this three more times."

Before that can happen, the Reds -- the first team in the Majors this season to clinch their division -- still need to know their opponent.

One thing the Reds are lacking, for the moment, is a definite opponent. If the season ended today, they would have the second-best record in the NL and the No. 2 seed. That would mean facing the No. 3 seed Giants, with Game 1 being on Oct. 6 in San Francisco. The Reds would have home-field advantage, getting to host the final three games of the series, if necessary. Meanwhile, the top-seeded Nationals, who are a half-game ahead of the Reds at 92-59, would draw the winner of the NL Wild Card.

At the moment, no one was worried about the NL Division Series opponent.

"Not right now, we're just having a blast, baby," rookie infielder Todd Frazier said.

Before he left the club on Wednesday, Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price had already recalibrated the rotation with an eye toward the postseason. The order is Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. Only Leake doesn't figure to get an NLDS start at this point.

Other major decisions, such as finalizing the postseason roster, remain several days away. The club also needs to get 100 percent healthy, which seems to be getting closer to happening. Closer Aroldis Chapman, who had left shoulder fatigue, closed out the win on Saturday as he pitched for the first time since Sept. 10. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick is resting with a minor groin strain and shortstop Zack Cozart just returned Friday after missing two weeks with a left oblique strain.

Of course, one of the most important contributors needed back on the job is Baker himself. The club hopes he can leave the hospital on Sunday and return to Cincinnati.

"It would have been even better if Dusty were here, but we understand the situation," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "We just have to worry about him being healthy, that's what it's all about."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.