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Don Mattingly a guiding force for Dodgers

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly played in 1,785 major league games as a player, and has managed in 809 more, plus spent years as a coach. But in his over 25 years in a major league dugout, he has yet to experience a World Series championship.

"That always should be the guiding force. It happens to almost everyone. Once you get to a certain point, it's all about winning," Mattingly said. "It's not about you or one thing. It's more about winning and fighting for that challenge to get to the top of the mountain. You always fight for that. It's what keeps you going. Once you get one, you want to get back."

Mattingly is in his third postseason in five years as Dodgers manager, and the first skipper in franchise history to reach the postseason in three consecutive years.

"I think he's done a very nice job this season with the roster turnover we've had and mixing and matching different players, both in the clubhouse and on the field," general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "I think he's handled some of the strategic challenges of our roster very well, and I expect that to continue in the postseason."

The Dodgers in 2015 used a franchise-record 55 different players, including 31 pitchers, also a team record.

"He's obviously gotten the experience," Zaidi continued. "He knows this roster and the players' strength and weaknesses better than anybody, and I think we all have faith he'll push the right buttons and the game's going to be answered on the field."

Much of the criticism of Mattingly comes from his strategic in-game decisions, a notion dispelled by Zaidi.

"If you're going to tell me a team's success is solely driven by the manager, I just don't think that's how it works. Managers make strategic decisions and put guys in positions to succeed, but a lot of those decisions are 52-48 or 55-45," Zaidi explained. "The games are decided by the players on the field.

"His preparation has been tremendous. We spend some time with him before every game. Some of that is his own preparation, and some of that comes from us."

But there is more to the game than strategic decisions like bullpen changes and double switches or bunting. There is dealing with people, which is Mattingly's strength.

"Donnie carries himself with a patience and calmness that allows him to stay in the present," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "It creates a clubhouse atmosphere that oozes confidence and keeps us off the emotional roller coaster that can derail a grueling 162-game season."

I see a lot of the criticism first hand during games on Twitter, with fans' instant reactions, wanting to fire Mattingly for seemingly every move. But despite all those supposed missteps during games, the Dodgers somehow keep winning division titles.

They have avoided the type of collapse seen this year in Washington, a textbook example of needing more than just talent to succeed. Managing that talent, it turns out, is pretty important, too.

"The longer I've been in baseball, the more [a manager's job is] titled toward managing the clubhouse and personalities and egos," Zaidi said. "Being behind the scenes you realize how important it is to manage personalities, get guys to buy into their roles, and maintain peace in the clubhouse. In any other industry, a manager is thought of as a manager of people."

While outwardly calm, Mattingly possesses an inner fire, always wanting to improve, the same drive that made him one of the premiere players in baseball in the late 1980s. But there's a difference between playing and managing.

"It's a lot different as manager or a coach than as a player. As a player, the clock is always ticking. You're getting older, and your skills at some point erode to where you can't compete at this level," Mattingly explained. "As a manager or coach, it's almost the opposite way. You know you're getting more life experience, and you're actually getting better all the time, in relationships and conversations."

Mattingly was asked what it would mean to finally reach, and win that elusive World Series.

"I don't know how it would feel," he said, "but I'd like to find out."