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All the wrong moves

Manuel's pitching changes backfire on Phillies

Posted: Thursday October 4, 2007 9:08PM; Updated: Thursday October 4, 2007 9:16PM
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Charlie Manuel and the Phillies don't have a month to pull off another comeback.
Charlie Manuel and the Phillies don't have a month to pull off another comeback.
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PHILADELPHIA -- There must be a way to get a major league manager -- like, say, Charlie Manuel -- to the mound more, well, efficiently. Perhaps Charlie might try sprinting (then again, one pulled hammy could make that strategy look bad) or at least slipping on a blue blazer so he looks like an aging process server.

Manuel made two agonizing sojourns to the hill on Thursday afternoon during Game 2 of the Phillies' slip-slip-slipping-away NL Division Series against the Colorado Rockies, and both trips had the character of a perp walk.

He made the first trip in the top of the fourth, when, with the bases loaded, he lifted starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick in favor of Kyle Lohse, a starter whom the manager suddenly decided was a long reliever. Never change anything in October -- unless it's the clock. At that point, the Citizens Bank crowd did not utter its favorite three-letter word -- BOO!! -- but there was a palpable collective groan, and, indeed, the K-exchange did not result in a K. Lohse got two strikes on Kaz Matsui but then served up a beachball that the second baseman hammered into the right-field bleachers to give Colorado a 6-3 lead it never relinquished. "IDIOT!" screamed one Philly fan, targeting the manager, not Matsui.

Then, in the sixth, here comes ol' Charlie again, the No. 41 on the back of his XXXL jersey looking like a big, red target, trudging to the mound, each heavy footfall punctuated by a boo. Manuel's mission this time was to send reliever Jose Mesa to the showers, thereby closing the barn door with the animals out on the interstate. Mesa, recognized as the least reliable of the not-so-reliable Phils' relievers, got himself into instant trouble with two walks, then surrendered a double to catcher Yorvit Torrealba that put the Rockies up 7-3. Manuel at least had someone to share in his misery, a nice chorus of ME-SA SUCKS! being offered up by the Phillies fans.

The Rockies went on to score three more runs and, with the best-of-five series heading for Denver, the Rockies' 10-5 victory suggests a sweep is imminent.

Manuel, of course, defended his decision as only Manuel could. "I don't think it [lifting Kendrick for Lohse] was a mistake," he said. "I liked Lohse on ... on ... what's his name? ... Matsui, yeah, Matsui. I felt he was the right guy."

Few things in sports are so easily rewritten in the mind as recent baseball history. Lohse gets one more strike on what's-his-name and the Phillies are out of the inning, still in possession of a 3-2 lead. But he didn't, and the fact remains that it was the wrong decision, as was bringing in Mesa and burning two pinch-hitters (Greg Dobbs in the fourth and Michael Bourn in the fifth, neither of whom got on) too early. You have to feel for Manuel because he is an easy target, never overly popular in Philly, where he is considered maybe a step behind the times and not nearly fiery enough. Never mind that he was hired to be the anti-Larry Bowa, the previous Phillies manager who was a ranter and raver of the first order -- Manuel does not have a contract for next year and a three-game flameout would hardly encourage the Phils' brass to give him one.

But if the Phils don't rally, it won't be Manuel's fault alone. Let's remember that Kendrick, even if he shouldn't have been lifted, had already given up first-inning, back-to-back first-pitch homers to Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday -- not exactly the way to change the series momentum. Second baseman Chase Utley struck out for the fifth time in a row in the first inning and killed potential rallies in the second and seventh with flyouts. (Utley did get hits in his final two at-bats, suggesting that his slump might be over.) Ryan Howard got picked off first base in the third inning, always a rally-killer. And Aaron Rowand, who had a home run in the Game 1 loss, didn't come close to hitting anything in four at-bats.

But on Thursday afternoon, the boos fell most heavily upon Manuel, who, per usual, stiff-upper-lipped it. "The fans have been outstanding all year," he said. "They paid their money and, well, it's just part of it." Actually, Manuel can only hope that gets another chance this season to make that long walk to the mound at Citizens Bank Park season -- a decisive Game 5 would be next Tuesday back at home. But the Phillies have a long way to go before then and, right now, there appears to be no one to lead them.