Baker happy to be alive, not worried about 'what-ifs'
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SCOTTSDALE -- So was it when Johnny Cueto’s back pretzeled him after six pitches in Game 1? Was it when Scott Rolen mangled Joaquin Arias’ slow roller in Game 3? Or the 0-1 pitch from Mike Leake to Angel Pagan, or the 0-1 pitch to Gregor Blanco, or the 1-0 pitch to Angel Pagan in Game 4? Or Mat Latos dissembling pitch by pitch leading up to Buster Posey’s soul-crushing grand slam in Game 5?

When, specifically, did the Cincinnati Reds propel the San Francisco Giants to their second World Series in three years?

General manager Walt Jocketty is sure that the tide was turned when the Reds didn’t win Game 3 despite a great pitching performance from Homer Bailey. Manager Dusty Baker isn’t sure, but he suspects the Reds wouldn’t have gone much further without Cueto.

It is a useful question, though. The Reds had the Giants dead, dead, and indisputably dead in the National League Division Series, up 2-0 after winning both games in San Francisco. The Giants had done their duty to the best of their ability and simply run into a superior team.

Except that the Reds turned out not to be the superior team, and regrets run long in a town that hasn’t won a title in 22 years. And for a manager who has come as close as any in his profession without actually cashing in.

Except for one thing. Dusty Baker is too happy to be alive to worry too much about whether it was Cueto or Rolen or Game 3 or you name it.

“I don’t worry about that, not like I would have,” the Reds’ manager said. “Not after what I’ve been through. I’ve learned it’s not good to worry about what-if. Everything has a point, and a plan, and a purpose.”

Baker has found a new level of baseball zen since suffering a mini-stroke last season. He was in Chicago when the Cubs’ team doctor, whom he knew from his time as the team’s manager, noticed that Baker was having shortness of breath and ankle swelling and said, “’Come on, I’m taking you to the hospital.’ We get in his car, and me and my guy from Sacramento go. And he’s a lawyer. A personal injury lawyer.’”

Now that’s preparation. What came next was luck.

“I was five minutes from being released and the nurse said, ‘What’s your name?’ and I said, ‘Ba-da-ba-dah,’ and she asked me again and I said, ‘Duh-ba-duh-dah,’ and I was right back in again.

“If I'd been at the park, or off hunting somewhere, or at a restaurant, hey, I might not be here. As it was, I spent my time in the hospital, and when I got out, I saw neurologists, urologists, every –ologist you can have.”

And suddenly, the Reds’ close call last October seems a million miles and a billion cares ago.

But it really isn’t. There is a new hunt, and the Reds remain as well-positioned as any team in the National League. They are largely the same, with the notable exception of closer Aroldis Chapman being added to the rotation, an issue upon which Jocketty and Baker do not see cornea to cornea. But the rest of the lineup is healthy and stacked, and the lessons of a year ago, when “we had too much pitching and too many hitters,” according to Baker, has become “you can still run one short when you really need it.”

And Baker, at 63, is eager to get the one prize that has escaped him as a manager. The year that goes so well that he doesn’t get stopped one back muscle, or one timely hit, or a health scare short of fruition. The Reds were close enough last year to taste victory, and for a man who 10 years earlier was even closer than that, just getting nipped at the divisional wire is not close enough.

Still, he has the good sense not to look a gift horse in the mouth even in hard times. At least he’s still able to look at the horse, and that one truth renders all the close calls and ill-timed circumstances infinitesimal in size and scope.

But if only Cueto hadn’t seized up in Game 1, maybe . . . maybe . . . just maybe.