WASHINGTON – The clubhouse attendant, barely out of his teens, walked tentatively into the visiting manager’s office in the bowels of Nationals Stadium.

“Come on in,” called Fredi Gonzalez, the barrel-chested 48-year-old manager of the Atlanta Braves, with a friendly wave.

The kid handed Gonzalez the night’s lineup card for Washington. Gonzalez peered at it, then picked up a pencil and scratched a line through the second name in the batting order:

HARPER CF

“Tell Davey,” said Gonzalez, referring to Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, “Harper isn’t feeling well. He needs a night off.”

The clubhouse kid hesitated, unsure what to do, until a big grin split the face of Gonzalez, who is remembered in Portland as the manager of the 1997 Sea Dogs.

As it turned out, Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old star of the first-place Nationals, indeed got the night off. As did the rest of his teammates and the Braves on this first Friday in June, because thunderstorms and tornado warnings swept across the nation’s capital.

SHRUGGING OFF DISASTER

The two baseball teams that suffered through collapses of historic proportions last September are coming together tonight at Fenway Park. The Braves blew an 8 1/2-game lead over St. Louis in the final month of the season as the Red Sox were going 7-20 to fritter away a nine-game advantage over Tampa Bay. Both Atlanta and Boston blew ninth-inning leads in their final game of the season to lose a chance at the wild card.

While storm clouds seemed to settle over the Red Sox throughout the off-season — turmoil, accusations, beer, fried chicken, Terry Francona and strength coach Dave Page thrown under the bus — the Braves simply dusted themselves off and, with the only major change the departure of hitting coach Larry Parish, returned to their winning ways.

They enter the weekend five games over .500 and have been competitive all season in the National League East. The Red Sox, after stumbling out of the gate and spending much of the spring in last place, were two games over .500 entering Thursday night’s game against Miami.

“You know, in my opening remarks in spring training, I told them how proud I was of them as a team,” Gonzalez said, “how everyone took responsibility and nobody pointed fingers and we all moved on.”

Some of that credit goes to Gonzalez and his bench coach, Carlos Tosca, his predecessor in Portland. Tosca managed the nascent Sea Dogs in 1994 and remained in Maine for two more seasons, both of them resulting in division titles. He later managed the Toronto Blue Jays before rejoining the Marlins under Gonzalez. Both went to Atlanta after the retirement of Bobby Cox in 2010.

In 18 seasons in Portland, the Sea Dogs have won their division four times. Three of those seasons belong to Tosca (94-95) and Gonzalez (96).

MEMORIES OF PORTLAND

Although they joked about driving two hours north to Portland for some lobster during their weekend in Boston, Gonzalez and Tosca aren’t likely to venture back to Maine this weekend. That doesn’t mean Portland won’t be in their thoughts.

“Portland was the first time I was subjected to a big-time fan base,” said Gonzalez, who spent six full seasons and part of a seventh managing at lower levels of the minors before reaching Double-A in Maine.

“I had learned about dealing with daily radio, dealing with the media, dealing with a (general manager) like Charlie (Eshbach) and an owner like Mr. (Dan) Burke, an owner who truly cared and asked what we needed.”

Much of what Gonzalez learned as a skipper came from the man who managed him as a teenager drafted by the Yankees in the 16th round out of a Miami high school. Gonzalez played his first three seasons of a professional career that stalled in Double-A under Tosca, his predecessor in Portland and a fellow Cuban who also fled to Florida as a young boy.

“He was my biggest influence,” Gonzalez said before coming north with those ’97 Sea Dogs of Kevin Millar, Josh Booty and Mark Kotsay. “I learned the value of discipline. I learned that hard work pays off in the end and to never cheat any kid.

“It doesn’t matter if one guy’s a No. 1 draft pick and the other guy’s a 30th-round pick, you treat everybody the same way.”

That philosophy has stood Gonzalez in good stead. Four hours before the scheduled Braves-Nats game, he strolled the players’ lounge, stopping to join conversations, wanting details of the ongoing card game, busting a few chops before leaving a smile and a good word for everyone from clubhouse visitors to veteran players.

“He gives you the same face each day,” said Tosca, who will turn 59 in September. “I can be not so pleasant whereas Fredi is (consistently upbeat and positive). He doesn’t hold grudges. All those bad habits I have, he doesn’t have.”

ONE LONG FRIENDSHIP

What Gonzalez and Tosca share is a friendship of three decades and a level of trust beyond the already insular fraternity of baseball. As a player, Gonzalez called Tosca The General. Now it’s The Commander.

This is their second year together in Atlanta after 31/2 seasons in Florida; Gonzalez had asked Tosca to leave Arizona to become his bench coach for the Marlins.

“I can ask him stuff and I know I can get his honest opinion,” Gonzalez said. “It might not be the answer I want to hear but I know it’s an honest one.”

They talk in the dugout throughout the game, discussing scenarios and possibilities, how things might unfold and how best to respond. Tosca brings notes and scouting reports with him — he shows a visitor an item concerning Nats shortstop Ian Desmond, who bunted for a base hit 28 times last season and, through the first two months of this season, did so eight times.

Gonzalez has a son and a daughter in college. His son Alex is a center on the football team at West Georgia State. Tosca is a grandfather with three grown children and has remarried since his years in Portland.

Until a week ago, the Braves had a third Sea Dogs alumnus on the roster, but Livan Hernandez was released after a 17-year career in the majors.

The desire to return to managing still burns in Tosca, although not quite as strong as it once did. He interviewed for the head job in Pittsburgh that went to Clint Hurdle and the one in New York that went to Willie Randolph.

“I would like to manage again,” Tosca said, “but what I want more is to hoist that trophy and have people spraying champagne on you. That’s what I want to do.” 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH