Ryne Sandberg has done it again.
Cast aside by the Cubs a year ago, he has turned in another highly successful season as a minor league manager. Sandberg guided the Lehigh Valley IronPigsto the Governor's Cup championship series in the International League, completely turning around the culture of a losing situation.
One of the minor leagues' worst teams the last three years, the Phillies' Triple-A team won 22 more games in 2011 than '10 and then beat the Pawtucket Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs before the Columbus Clippers eliminated Lehigh Valley Friday night.
Sandberg, whom Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick vetted for the job, drew effusive praise from Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. for his work.
Sandberg has managed five minor league seasons, and delivered only one losing record in his four with the Cubs. He took Double-A Tennessee to the Southern League championship series in 2009 and went 82-62 with Triple-A Iowa in 2010.
Some in Philadelphia believe he's a likely successor to Charlie Manuel as the Phillies' manager — just as many in Chicago thought he would get the job that went to Mike Quade last fall. But Manuel plans to manage at least another two years, and Amaro expects a major league team to nab Sandberg before then.
"Ryne has been outstanding,'' he said. "It's hard for me to find enough superlatives when I talk about what he has done there. … He's a Hall of Famer who doesn't act like a Hall of Famer.
"I think he understands the importance of what he has done in the game. I also think he's very humble about it. The players really liked and enjoyed playing for him. They were motivated to play for him.''
Sandberg was mentioned in several managerial searches last winter, including ones for the Brewers, Pirates and Mariners, but Jim Hendry was the only GM to grant him an interview. He was open to coaching positions in the big leagues but took the job at Lehigh Valley after receiving no such offers.
Amaro gives Sandberg credit for paying his dues in learning how to manage.
We'll know in a couple of weeks how many managerial openings are available for Sandberg and other candidates. The Marlins are in the market, but a lot of other teams could be, including the White Sox and Cubs.
Don't rule out Sandberg returning to the Cubs. His issues over the process a year ago lie with Hendry, not Chairman Tom Ricketts.
"Hey, whatever would be best for Ryne. I have a great deal of respect for him.'' Amaro said. "
Retiring the trophy: Mariano Rivera entered the weekend one save behind Trevor Hoffman's career record of 601. He probably will finish the season as the all-time leader, and nobody will be close to catching him.
Among active pitchers, Francisco Cordero is second to Rivera with 323 saves and Jason Isringhausen has 300. Add in an all-time best 42 career postseason saves and you can see why Rivera is hailed as the greatest closer ever.
"He's a stand-alone,'' general manager Brian Cashman told the New York Post. "No one is even close. He's the biggest piece of the puzzle. He is a piece that could not have been replaced. No one in his profession can do what he has done and continues to do."
The 41-year-old Rivera is thinking mostly of how he can add to his legacy helping the Yankees win a sixth championship with him in the bullpen.
He said the magnitude of his success is sinking in, "but I am still looking at it as just doing my job. That's who I am.''
Next in line: The Rays' already young starting rotation figures to have another impressive rookie in 2012. That would be lefty Matt Moore, who made his big-league debut out of the bullpen Wednesday in Baltimore.
Moore, who has been dominant at every level in the minors, threw 22 of 27 pitches at 95-plus in his debut, including three at 98 mph.
"That was the easiest 96 I think I've ever seen,'' David Price said. "When he threw that first pitch I thought it was going to be 90-91 and it popped up at 96. It doesn't even look like the ball really jumps out of his hand. It's just so smooth, and then you look at that scoreboard and its 95, 96, 97. It gets on hitters pretty quick.''
Manager Joe Maddon is reasonably impressed.
"This kid is going to be really good,'' he said. "He is good, and he's going to be really good. I don't know exactly how that's all going to work out in the near-future and the future, but I'll say this: He has a chance to be very special.''
"Joe's not one to make excuses," Morneau said. "The reality is, he tried to come back too soon from knee surgery. Could (the Twins) have helped him out if they said he never built back his strength, instead of calling it bilateral leg weakness? I think it would have been a lot different if they said he tried to come back too soon so he could help our team win."
Mauer never had his legs under him after hurrying back from knee surgery before spring training, which helps explains why he went into the weekend hitting .287 with three homers and 30 RBIs. He will write it off as a lost season and work toward being Comeback Player of the Year in 2012.
"I understand that I'm probably going to get more of (the criticism) than anybody in this clubhouse," Mauer said. "Just given the fact that I'm from (Minnesota), I have a big contract — all that stuff."
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