SAN FRANCISCO The last time Dusty Baker managed a playoff game at AT&T Park, he was giving signs from the home dugout, and he left the stadium on the night of Oct. 24, 2002, one win from a World Series title that would escape his grasp in Anaheim.
The place was called Pacific Bell Park then, in its third year as the home of the Giants. And Baker, the Cincinnati Reds' manager who helmed the Giants from 1993 to 2002, acknowledged a touch of nostalgia in returning Saturday night for Game 1 of this year's National League Division Series.
"I mean, we helped put some bricks in this stadium," Baker said. "We came over from Candlestick (Park), and the new stadium was built and, you know, it meant a lot to us. And it looks the same, well-preserved. And yeah, anytime you come back to your old home, it means a lot."
Baker received a standing ovation when introduced before the game from many of the fans in attendance, while the scoreboard flashed a message: "Welcome back Dusty."
It was referencing not only Baker's playoff return, but relief over his return to the dugout after health scares last month. Baker was hospitalized Sept. 19 with an irregular heartbeat and reportedly later suffered a mini-stroke.
Baker was back in uniform and wearing an easy smile while addressing reporters before the game with his son Darren who was famously scooped up by J.T. Snow when he wandered too close to the plate as a 3-year-old batboy during that 2002 World Series at his side.
"I'm feeling great, actually," said Baker, who added that health issues gave him "a different perspective."
"You appreciate family, you appreciate the moon, the trees, birds, everything," Baker said. "And you realize how beautiful life really is."
Harder than it looks San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, wearing a Giants hat and No. 18 jersey, threw out the first pitch before the game and bounced it in the dirt, sending Sergio Romo, crouching to receive the throw, diving to his right for the ball.
Though the Giants likely won't be looking to sign Smith anytime soon, it continued a spate of camaraderie between the two San Francisco teams.
Recently, Smith said the NFL had handed him a $15,000 fine later reduced to a warning for wearing a Giants hat during a postgame news conference. The next day, Bochy wore a 49ers hat during his pregame presser as a show of solidarity.
Huff better Bochy gave two reasons for including Aubrey Huff on the playoff roster. For one, he said, Huff has performed well recently as a pinch hitter six hits in his last 13 at-bats and three walks.
Second, Bochy said, Huff is noticeably running better, meaning if he does get on base, the Giants may not automatically pinch-run for him.
Huff had an injection 10 days ago in his troublesome right knee, Bochy said.
"He's running now vs. hobbling," Bochy said.
What advantage? Asked about the 2-3 division series format this year, in which the Reds open with two games on the road despite being the higher seed, Baker answered: "It doesn't feel like I have home-field advantage at all."