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To truly appreciate the grace and fluidity of Philadelphia Second Baseman Manny Trillo, one has only to look to his left, where Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose, attacks his position. Rose has never been averse to hard work, which is good because without it he could never play first. He pounces on grounders, snatches throws and dives after anything that comes his way.
Trillo, on the other hand, never seems to have to dive for a grounder. From the moment the ball is hit, he glides into position, his plane of movement intercepting the baseball's, the throw to first all arm, whipped across his body with a Kent Tekulve submarine delivery.
But while Rose will never be accused of resembling Trillo afield, Manny has developed a pretty good imitation of Pete at the plate. Combined with his glove work, this has helped keep the Phillies in the National League East race, half a game out of first as of Sunday. On that day Trillo, 29, was batting .317, fourth best in the league.
Only 12 points separated the top five hitters, and Trillo was as surprised as anyone to be among them. "I always thought of myself as a .260, .270 hitter," he says. "After I started so good, though, I promised Billy [batting instructor Billy DeMars] that my average wouldn't fall down." In each of his five previous seasons Trillo has been among the league's hitting leaders in April and May, only to fizzle in the later months. This season he's been hot all year; his average has dipped below .300 for only three days all summer. In July and August, Trillo hit .337 and .330, respectively, 97 and 85 points above his previous highs for these months.
Trillo cites two reasons for his new staying power. In long sessions with DeMars he has learned to keep his left shoulder back when he strides into the ball so as not to commit himself prematurely. The second reason, Trillo feels, is the advantage of playing in Philadelphia after four years in Chicago's sunstruck Wrigley Field. At 6'1", 160 pounds, the willowy Trillo would wilt in the heat.
"It seemed like it was always 85� or 90� out there, and I was playing 155 games a year for four years in a row," he says. "I would get worn out. We had other infielders, but the Cubs said, 'Nope, you're the one who has to be out there every day.' "
But can you blame them? The cannon-armed Trillo won his first Gold Glove last year, and he's always ranked near the top of the league in double plays, partly because his submarine delivery forces runners to make premature slides to either side of second to avoid being decapitated by a throw.
Trillo defends his motion as a matter of self-preservation. "A player coming in with his spikes high could end a career by wrecking a knee or an ankle, but they do it anyway," he says. "I don't mind a guy coming in hard as long as it's clean, but if I didn't throw this way I'd be part of some outfield wall. Now the runners know they better go down quick."
Trillo says he has been knocked down turning the double play only three times in his career—by Atlanta's Gary Matthews, Houston's Enos Cabell and the Mets' Steve Henderson. "If they knock me down once they'll never do it again," he warns.
Apprehensive base runners notwithstanding, perhaps the most exciting play Trillo makes is on the routine grounder. After fielding the ball in his graceful manner, Trillo hesitates tantalizingly, as if he were searching for National League President Chub Feeney's signature before rifling it over to first to nip the runner.