CLEVELAND -- Joe Smith headed to Progressive Field on Thursday to pick up a package. Once inside, a clubhouse employee told the Indians reliever to take a look inside the coaches' room.
Smith was stunned to see bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr.'s locker had been cleaned out.
"I couldn't believe he left for a managing job somewhere," Smith said, "but then I was told he just moved down the hall."
The news trickled down from the front office to the players in a variety of ways -- clubhouse conversations, phone calls, text messages, updates on Twitter -- and it was met with surprise only in the sense of timing. With six games left on the schedule, Manny Acta was removed as manager and Alomar moved into his office with an interim tag on his title.
During this type of situation, players feel responsible when someone loses their job over a club's poor performance. Cleveland's woes led to the dismissal of pitching coach Scott Radinsky in August, and the team's continued struggles paved the way for Thursday's decision to replace Acta with Alomar.
Such decisions can be tough for players to swallow.
"It's unfortunate that this had to happen," designated hitter Travis Hafner said. "It was just a bad second half. The players are the ones out there playing. They're ultimately responsible for how the team does. We're the ones who take the blame. It's unfortunate when coaches lose their job and things like that."
As is likely the case in every Major League clubhouse, Acta had his fans and he had his critics. There were complaints throughout the season that the manager did not argue enough calls on the field, showing support for his players, or that he did not call enough meetings to hold players accountable.
That was Acta's way of operating, though, and he was always up front about his style.
"He had his own way of doing things," pitcher Josh Tomlin said. "It wasn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It was just the way Manny managed, and that was what he told us in the clubhouse one time.
"He said that's how he managed, that's how he won in the Minor Leagues and that's how he was going to win in the big leagues -- by being himself. You have to respect a man for that, that he wasn't going to change who he was."
Acta -- always calm and collected in front of the cameras -- did erupt behind the scenes from time to time.
After one recent loss in Cleveland, Acta headed down the dugout steps into the clubhouse, grabbed a trash can and threw it with such force that it shattered a coffee maker that rested on a countertop. During the Tribe's nine-game losing streak in August, Acta called a team meeting in Seattle and showed a mix of passion and anger that surprised his players.
"That was nice to see," said one player, "but by that time, the damage had really been done."
Dating back to July 27, the Indians have gone a Major League-worst 15-42, falling from 3 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central to tied with the Twins for the worst record (65-91) in the league. As the team's slide grew more steep, some of the players were looking anywhere for guidance.
"Our team, for whatever reason, didn't seem motivated to play," Smith said. "It's sad when you say that about a bunch of guys that get paid to play a game. You shouldn't need somebody else to motivate you to play this game. At the end of the day, it's on us, but when it came that time to motivate us, there wasn't a whole lot of it there.
"He was always a good guy to us personally. You can't say anything bad about him in that way."
Third baseman Jack Hannahan agreed that it should not have been Acta's job alone to figure out a way to motivate the team during their August slump.
"I've respected the fact that Manny was a manager that let his veterans do the policing," Hannahan said. "That's something that I respected about him. This is the big leagues. You don't need a babysitter in the big leagues. You need veterans to lead the way."
Acta -- in a conference call with Cleveland's beat writers on Thursday -- said he did not believe he lost his clubhouse, and he never questioned the club's effort.
"Effort doesn't always translate into winning," Acta said. "At the end of the day, people are going to have their opinion and you're going to have to respect it, but I didn't have any issues with my kids, getting them to go out there and play."
Many of the Tribe's players were excited about playing under Alomar.
A six-time All-Star and veteran of 20 Major League seasons, Alomar comes from a well-known baseball family and has been a highly-sought managerial prospect over the past couple of years. As a bench coach this season, and a first-base coach on Acta's staff in the two previous years, Alomar formed a strong bond with players in the clubhouse.
Given the nature of career and accomplishments, Alomar also commands respect.
"You look on the back of his baseball card," Hannahan said. "It's instant respect for a guy who's been in your shoes and knows and understands that the game is not that easy. I think he'll be able to connect with the players and get the most out of players and really be successful."
Smith has known Alomar -- a catching instructor for the Mets before joining Acta's staff prior to the 2010 season -- since his days pitching in New York. Like Hannahan, the reliever feels Alomar has the potential to be a good fit for the Indians' managerial role.
"He's got experience. He's been there," Smith said. "He's been through the daily grind. He's been in the playoffs. He's been in those clutch situations. He performed and he knows what it takes. He's one of those guys where you've got a very good resource leading your team.
"He can have fun and joke around, but when it gets down to business and he says something, it should carry a lot of weight. For a guy that is that well liked in the clubhouse, he's got that much respect, too. I think it'll go a long way."