With Wednesday night's win, the Phillies are tied with Houston in the NL Wild Card race. It's time to give Charlie Manuel the credit he deserves.
Three-quarters through the season and I still haven’t read a profile on manager Charlie Manuel written by a member of the Philadelphia media, aside from a piece or two when he first got the job.
Besides the rah-rah pad quotes woven into game coverage, has anyone bothered to sit down with the first-year boss to really pick his brain on strategy, personnel, the decisions that worked and those that didn’t?
Has anyone really talked to this man, you know, the one whose team has the third-best record in the National League? It would make a good story, I bet.
The media’s small-town bias of Manuel is a total joke for a city that prides itself on progressive thinking. Isn't it about time to finally realize the guy’s not the disgraceful goon everyone thinks he is?
No. He wasn't part of the 1980 championship team. Yes. He's from North Fork, W.Va. Yes. He listens to George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Yes. It's time to get over it.
I’m not sure what others look at, but the overriding factor should be results, and the Phils have now clawed into a tie with Houston for the NL wild card. They weren't supposed to do that.
In doing so, the team has overcome injuries to their highest-paid starter, Randy Wolf, and highest-paid player, Jim Thome, leaning on a supporting cast few people picked to go anywhere.
Think back for a minute the last time you truly believed Manuel cost them a game. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? If you can, I’ll top it with a number of occasions his decisions have led to a win – small but substantial moves like using Todd Pratt to catch Jon Lieber, sticking with Vicente Padilla instead of using Ryan Madson in the rotation, and having enough faith to hand the ball to a rookie, Robinson Tejeda, to replace Randy Wolf.
Those decisions count, too.
Most of the fuss early this season centered on the platoon, and that was resolved in just over two months. It also netted a top-flight setup man, and as fans realized tonight, having a rock-solid bullpen is crucial during the stretch.
There were also early struggles in the bullpen, but that was true for almost every team in baseball. Once Tim Worrell and Terry Adams were put out to pasture, the Phils' pen became downright scary. There are plenty of teams still experimenting with their bullpens, and Manuel deserves credit for stabilizing his so soon.
All over ESPN.com, analysts are respecting the Phils’ chances. From Jerry Crasnick's piece this afternoon on ESPN Insider:
Two scouts told Insider that they think the Phillies have the goods to make a run at the wild card, in part because of a bullpen that's close to airtight with Wagner, Urbina and Madson. In the last 35 games, the Phils' pen is 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA. "I'm sure Charlie goes into every game just thinking, 'Let me get to the seventh with my starter,'" one scout said.
Before the season, there was a sickening amount of talk about the new, relaxed atmosphere, but has it worked?
Predictably, Manuel has been an easy target for ridicule in Philly, with his "Charlie from Mayberry" demeanor and occasional head-scratching dugout strategy. It's hard not to chuckle when he makes a reference to Ugueth "Oo-bina" or "Don-telle" Willis.
But ol' Charlie sure is sharp when it comes to human relations. He's coaxed a productive season (.307 with a .365 OBP) out of 38-year-old Kenny Lofton and managed to make things work when Placido Polanco was complaining incessantly about a lack of playing time in April and May. General manager Ed Wade spun Polanco to the Tigers for Urbina in June, and Chase Utley has blossomed as the Phillies' regular second baseman and No. 3 hitter.
When rookie starter Robinson Tejeda was miffed after being pulled in the sixth inning of an 8-5 win in Colorado on July 28, Manuel refused to let the problem fester. He spent the better part of an hour sharing a postgame meal with Tejeda, explaining his decision and emphasizing the value of team goals over individual performances.
I made a deliberate decision to use the word “plan” in my headline. Contrary to popular belief, he has one. I seem to recall the previous skipper fiddling with the lineup at this late stage of the season. Not Manuel. His current lineup, featuring Utley in the elevated three-spot, has been a fixture since the all-star break. What manager doesn’t need room to experiment early in the season?
I was recently interviewed for a piece on Manuel currently in the works over at "Philadelphia Weekly." I’m not sure whether writer Dan McQuade is talking to the man himself, but he talked to me, and I was very conscious about giving the Phils’ skipper the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the interview, I gave Manuel a grade, and I believe it was a C- or a D. If I was asked again today, I'd be fair. He deserves no lower than a B- for what he's done to get them to this point.
A manager should be measured by results, not press conference eloquence. It’s funny because his harshest critics are the ones that gave the team “no shot” at a playoff birth.
And here we are.