McKeon applauds Mattingly's bold move

McKeon applauds Mattingly's bold move

MIAMI -- Skeptics may have questioned Don Mattingly's decision to go with Clayton Kershaw on short rest Tuesday in the National League Division Series.

Jack McKeon, however, applauded it.

"I loved it," McKeon said. "He pitched pretty good, didn't he?"

Yes he did.

Mattingly, the Dodgers manager, opened himself up to second-guessing by turning to his ace on three days' rest. Rolling the dice worked.

Kershaw held the Braves in check over six innings, allowing two unearned runs in the Dodgers' 4-3 win that was secured by Juan Uribe's two-run homer in the eighth inning.

Like Mattingly, McKeon knows what it is like to stick his neck on the line with a bold move.

As manager of the Marlins in 2003, McKeon handed the ball to Josh Beckett on three days' rest in Game 6 of the World Series.

Beckett, then a 23-year-old, stepped up and threw one of the most impressive close-out games in World Series history. The hard-throwing right-hander tossed a five-hit, complete-game shutout.

Behind Beckett, the Marlins defeated the Yankees, 2-0, at Yankee Stadium.

"I don't see any difference today than years ago," said McKeon, now 82 and a Marlins special assistant. "It's just the routine that the pitcher has established that changes. That's about all. You have guys who are more than happy to pitch on three days' rest."

After the Marlins won Game 5 to go up 3-2 in the series, McKeon approached Beckett about his change of plans.

"All I could look for is, when I asked Beckett if he could do it, he said, 'You bet,' " McKeon said. "Somebody who wants it, that's what I look for."

Beckett and Kershaw are now teammates, but the veteran right-hander has missed most of the season due to injury.

Kershaw, the heavy favorite to be the NL Cy Young Award winner, made it clear to Mattingly that he wanted the chance to close the series out in Los Angeles. So the decision was made.

"I was glad to hear that," McKeon said. "Someone had the guts to say, 'I want to win it now.'"

While Beckett and Kershaw delivered, there is enough history of pitchers who didn't produce when taking the mound a day earlier than normal.

McKeon scoffs at the track records of some others.

"History says you can't do this. History says you can't do that," McKeon said. "This is today. History is in the past."

With more than 60 years experience in professional baseball either as a general manager or manager, McKeon knows criticism comes with the job.

"Everything is a good move if it works," McKeon says. "When you make the moves, you make it with good intentions. Now, it's up to the players to produce."

McKeon points out the Braves had the lead in the eighth inning and their closer, Craig Kimbrel warming up for a potential four-out save. But setup reliever David Carpenter was tagged for the series-deciding homer by Uribe.

Kimbrel never got into the game.

"You see Kimbrel in the bullpen out there," McKeon said. "You have a one-run lead, and your best guy never gets in, because we don't want to overwork him, and he hasn't pitched two innings. You've got to go with your best."

While personally, McKeon likely would have gone with his closer for two innings, he doesn't blame Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was prepared to use Kimbrel for a four-out save.

"You can't place fault on anybody," McKeon said. "It's just hey, this is the way it landed. He wanted to go that way. It's manager's prerogative."

McKeon certainly had the magic touch a decade ago.

In 2003, Beckett turned in one of the most impressive World Series-clicnhing performances ever. He went the distance on 107 pitches and shut out a powerhouse team on its home field.

Beckett entered the ninth inning in 2003 with 99 pitches, but the night was going to be his, either way.

As for a pitch count that night, McKeon said: "Never thought about it."

The way McKeon saw it, the Marlins had a chance to eliminate the Yankees in six games, and he didn't want to chance a seventh game. Mark Redman, who was roughed up a couple of times in the playoffs, was in line to start Game 6. But because of his struggles, the left-hander was skipped for the team's ace.

Had the Yankees won Game 6, Carl Pavano was lined up to go on short rest in Game 7.

To McKeon, you go with the best. And in the playoffs, you expand the roles of pitchers, if necessary.

"You've got the whole winter to rest," he said. "I said, 'Hey, I've got to go with my stud.' I had made up my mind immediately I was going to go that way. I just had to get reassured from Beckett that he was mentally ready to accept this role."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.