This might be the comeback of the year.
Not Zack Greinke, coming back from losing his unsolicited wrestling match with Carlos Quentin. Not Hanley Ramirez, coming back from two injuries that occurred on virtually the same dirt spot in San Francisco, six weeks apart. Not the Dodgers themselves, sprinting from last to first in three weeks.
The comeback of the year is Don Mattingly, back from the walking dead.
There is no comeback manager of the year award. But there is a manager of the year award, and Mattingly ought to have clinched it by now.
One of his bosses put a target on his back last winter. He put a target on himself in spring training. The media put a target on him in May.
He never ducked.
"I could not imagine anyone handling it with more grace than he did," said Trey Hillman, the Dodgers' bench coach.
Hillman is biased. Mattingly handpicked him for the Dodgers' coaching staff.
But Hillman has been through this, as manager of the Kansas City Royals. The story line goes from 'How bad is the team?' to 'How soon is the manager getting fired?' Then the story feeds upon itself, getting bigger and bigger until management stomps it out.
The Dodgers' management chose not to do so. Hillman and Mattingly usually share a ride to Dodger Stadium, and Hillman wondered if his carpool mate would snap. In the clubhouse, Clayton Kershaw wondered too.
"It isn't easy when your team is not playing well and you hear all these rumors flying around," Kershaw said. "He didn't let it affect his demeanor toward us. He was the exact same guy every day. He kept a positive attitude.
"Nothing changed from him, personality-wise. That was important for us."
The Dodgers are the most expensive collection of athletes in North American sports history. Little wonder, then, that Magic Johnson said this in February: "We want to go to the World Series. If we don't accomplish that, yes, it is not a good season for us."
Mattingly did not duck. In March, he said the owners should consider replacing him if the Dodgers did not make the playoffs. "If we don't win and we're healthy, they really should look at it," Mattingly said. "This team has a lot of talent."
When the Dodgers stalled in last place, and the national media launched a Mattingly death watch in May, the manager strode into the interview room — all comers welcome, all questions welcome.
"It gets to be a feeding frenzy," Mattingly said Friday. "It gets out of hand. But if you let it play its course, you can see it through. You're better off wading through the water.
"There's no reason to be angry. If you're angry, you start doing stuff you shouldn't do."
Publicly, Dodgers executives were absolutely noncommittal. Privately, Dodgers President Stan Kasten told Mattingly that management would have to consider a change if the team did not start winning.
"Stan was really honest," Mattingly said. "I appreciated that."
Mattingly said he did not ask — and was not told — how long he had before he might lose his job.