Manuel scored a bull's-eye.

"He's an intense competitor," said former Expos teammate Wallace Johnson, whom Manuel hired to be his third-base coach. "If you have a guy you don't expect to be real vocal, and all of a sudden he becomes vocal, that catches your attention. It caught on with the everyday players and became a real us-against-them approach."

Montreal won that series three games to two but missed a trip to the World Series by the narrowest of margins. Los Angeles won the deciding game of the National League Championship Series 2-1 on Rick Monday's two-out home run in the ninth inning.

Shining moment

Sixteen years later, Manuel finally made it to the World Series. He was standing next to Leyland when Edgar Renteria singled off Cleveland's Charles Nagy in the 11th inning of Game 7, giving the Marlins a 3-2 victory in a game in which they had trailed until the ninth.

As Leyland's bench coach, Manuel proposed some of the moves that would lead Florida to its emotional world championship.

"I don't think a lot of people realize what a bench coach's job is," Leyland said. "Some (managers) do it differently, but I feel very comfortable having other people suggest changes. Jerry is a very quick, very bright guy. I think the people in Chicago are going to love him."

During a three-day break before the World Series, Leyland approached Manuel with what he called "a very critical mission." He wanted him to talk to left-fielder Moises Alou about his approach. Alou had contributed to the Marlins' difficulty in scoring runs against San Francisco and Atlanta, batting .138 with no home runs in his first nine postseason games.

Manuel, who was familiar with Alou from Montreal, essentially told his former manager's son to get serious. Alou responded with a three-run homer off Orel Hershiser in Florida's 7-4 victory in Game 1, added two doubles in a 6-1 loss in Game 2 and a too-little, too-late homer in a 10-3 loss in Game 4.

With the series tied two games apiece, Alou looked bad in his first two at-bats against Hershiser in Game 5, which Cleveland led 4-2. After Hershiser struck out Alou flailing at off-the-plate junk, Manuel walked down the bench, looked his project in the eye and told him he would have to "be a hitter" to beat Hershiser.

In Alou's next at-bat, with two on and two out, he took a curveball in the dirt for ball one. He looked directly into the dugout at Manuel, nodded his head, then worked the count to 2-1. He drove a long home run to left field, putting the Marlins ahead.

Three days later, Alou was 0 for 3 when he came to bat against Jose Mesa in the ninth inning of Game 7. He singled to left field to start the game-tying rally. Call this Manuel's mission possible.

"He helped all the guys all along," Leyland said. "Jerry was close to Moises in Montreal. He knew what made Moises go, more than the rest of us. He felt very comfortable with him."

Manuel worked to build relationships with all of the Florida players, including high-maintenance right-fielder Gary Sheffield. He had done the same during his brief tenure as a minor-league manager.

Manuel succeeded in both seasons he ran Montreal farm teams, leading Double-A Jacksonville to an 84-60 record in 1990 and getting Triple-A Indianapolis off to a 28-22 start before being promoted to join Tom Runnells' staff when Expos manager Buck Rodgers was fired two months into the '91 season.

"He did a good job for us," said Florida GM Dave Dombrowski, who came to the Marlins from the Expos. "He showed leadership capability. He had some good players on his team, but he had a great way of communicating with them, getting through to them. He had a good balance of teaching but retaining the posture of an authority figure, which is necessary for the job."

Manuel's two teams included future major-leaguers Wil Cordero, Bret Barberie, Archi Cianfrocco, Matt Stairs, Brian Barnes, Jeff Fassero, Mel Rojas and Kent Bottenfield. His pitching staff at Jacksonville led the Southern League with a 3.17 earned-run average and was the only team in the league (and one of only two at any level of pro ball that season) to have five pitchers with at least five saves apiece.

Bottenfield, now a reliever with the Cubs, says he and other players who have come into contact with Manuel have long believed he would succeed as a manager in the big leagues.

"Jerry's a manager who not only cares about the players on the field but just as much off the field," Bottenfield said. "He treats his team like a family. I can't say that enough. He's not in it just for himself. That tends to be pretty rare in this business."

Manuel believed he was ready to manage in the major leagues after leaving Indianapolis. But he now says it was God's plan to "plant" him alongside Felipe Alou and Leyland. Those teams combined for a .553 winning percentage (501-405) that likely would have been higher had Montreal not lost Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Ken Hill, John Wetteland and others to free agency or financially motivated trades.

Manuel knows he will face another unique set of circumstances in Chicago. After beefing up for an unsuccessful run at an AL Central title, the Sox could open this year with a payroll that is $20 million lower than the $54.3 million investment they had in salaries on Opening Day last year.

Manuel sees no reason why the management style that was reinforced by the years working alongside the compassionate Alou and the hard-driving Leyland won't work on the South Side of Chicago. The personal touch, he has found, is always welcome.

"I've never had to push my team through the wall," Manuel said. "I want my team to run through the wall without having to be pushed."