Charlie Manuel has won a lot of games as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He's been at the helm for four straight NL East titles, two straight NL pennants and World Series appearances and was the man who wrote the lineup card for the World Fucking Champions. He's the best Phillies manager of my lifetime.
He also was as big a reason as any that the Phillies lost last night, and as big a reason as any that they face a 3-1 hole in the NLCS with an out-of-whack pitching situation. It's his job as the manager to put his team in the best position to win each and every night, and the fact of the matter is that Charlie simply didn't do that last night. Not in the slightest.
It began with the decision to start Joe Blanton over Roy Halladay. The majority of people not only in Philadelphia but across the nation wondered why, down 2-1, Manuel and Rich Dubee wouldn't go with their horse, the clear-cut favorite for the NL Cy Young, their ace on short rest. This was the exact reason the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay, the reason he was Ruben Amaro's white whale. The difference, or so we were led to believe, between Halladay and Cliff Lee was that Halladay had a proven track record of pitching and pitching well on short rest. This was the moment Roy Halladay was made for. Throw him three times in a seven-game series because that's what he can do for you.
But Manuel and Dubee didn't see it that way. They chose to go with Joe Blanton instead, a guy who hadn't pitched in weeks, with the rationale that win or lose, they at least would have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels working on normal rest for the final three games.
Here's what that logic failed to mention: the Giants also have their three horses lined up for games 5, 6 and 7 on normal rest, guys in Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain that have stifled the Phillies hitters. Throwing Roy Halladay against rookie Madison Bumgarner gave the Phillies the best chance to win and even the series, not Joe Blanton. Everyone could see it, except for the two men that matter most, Manuel and Dubee.
And that decision backfired, as Blanton failed to make it out of the 5th inning, handing the game over to a Phillies bullpen that has been shaky all season and that had been seldom used in October.
Then Charlie compounded his error over and over again. In the 6th, with the Phillies clinging to a one-run lead, Chad Durbin came in and promptly walked Pat Burrell and surrendered a double to Cody Fucking Ross. He didn't have it. It was clear as day. That should have been all for Durbin, but it wasn't. Because Charlie had gone to his bullpen so early, already used up Jose Contreras and didn't trust Kyle Kendrick, so he left Durbin in. Durbin promptly gave up a double to Pablo Sandoval, allowing the Giants to take the lead. And Charlie just sat there, watching.
Sure, Durbin worked out of it after that, but he had relinquished the lead, all without so much as a glance by Manuel. It was clear as day that from the decision to start Blanton, the decision to stay with a struggling Durbin, the decision to follow that up with unproven Antonio Bastardo over proven if struggling J.C. Romero after that that Manuel was managing for a game 7. What he seemed to be forgetting is that he needed to get to a game 6 first.
But as baffling and as stupid as the move was to start Blanton, and as horrifying as it was to watch him give Durbin more rope to hang himself with, none of that is as terrible as what he did in the 9th inning. After the Phillis had tied the game up on back-to-back doubles by Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, and after Ryan Madson had gotten through an inning and two-thirds before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the 9th, Manuel all the sudden realized that, oh shit, if the Phillies don't win tonight, it would take a hell of a lot to get to a game 7. So he did the unthinkable. He started to get Roy Oswalt loosened up in the bullpen.
I was beside myself. He wasn't actually going to bring Oswalt into the game, was he? If so, why the hell wouldn't he have just started Halladay on short rest, instead of bringing in Oswalt in relief on two days' rest, then screwing up the entire rotation the rest of the way? Yet there was Manuel, not only loosening Oswalt up, but bringing him into a tie game in the 9th.
We all know what happened next. The Phillies lost, and now they're facing the most uphill of battles, one that was made exponentially worse by the manager. Manuel and Dubee didn't start Halladay because they wanted to keep the rotation in its normal routine and working on normal rest. Then they threw the whole thing out the window by bringing in Oswalt in the 9th, after pitching on Sunday. It made no sense whatsoever. Now the rotation is all screwed up. Even if Roy Halladay manages to outduel Tim Lincecum tonight, someone has to pitch on short rest Saturday. It's either going to be Cole Hamels, a guy who has never pitched on short rest in his career and seems to be incredibly hesitant to do so, or Roy Oswalt working on just two days' rest, after pitching an inning after just two days' rest before that.
Now, perhaps pitching one inning isn't that big of a deal for Oswalt and he'll be ready to go Saturday, but why take that chance if you weren't willing to take the chance on moving everyone a day up beforehand? Why not go with Brad Lidge or J.C. Romero? Don't get me wrong, I don't have a great deal of faith in Romero this year, and I hate seeing Lidge come into a non-save situation as much as anyone. But Charlie is a man who sticks with his guys, puts his faith in his guys, is confident in his guys. He's notorious for his unwavering confidence. Well last night, that confidence wavered. He showed none in Lidge. Or Romero. Or even Kyle Kendrick.
If he doesn't have confidence in his closer in that spot, or his top left-handed specialist who also has a history of doing well against righties, well, then what the hell are they even doing on the roster?
I don't want to take the sky-is-falling approach, but the fact remains that the Phillies are now facing elimination and have to face three really good pitchers to pull this thing off. The old adage goes that good pitching beats good hitting. Well, the Phillies don't have good hitting right now. They have bad hitting. Really bad hitting. Imagine what good pitching can do to that. Actually, just take a look at the first three games of this series.
Yes, the Phillies put up 5 runs last night — more than enough to win most nights in the playoffs, and certainly more than enough to win had Halladay been on the mound. But they scored four of those runs in one inning, and in their lone win, they scored six of their 8 runs in one inning. Essentially, this team has only hit in two innings in four games. It's no wonder they're down 3-1.
And when you look at even last night's game, when they did manage to score 5 runs and at one point take the lead, you see bad at-bat after bad at-bat. Mistake after mistake. Shane Victorino got a big hit to get the Phils on the board — then failed to get to second as Carlos Ruiz was being thrown out at the plate. It was some of the worst baserunning ever. Chase Utley followed with a single, a single that would have scored Victorino and tied and the game, but instead he only got to second because of his stupid baserunning. It became moot when Placido Polanco doubled to score Victorino and Utley and give the Phils the lead, but it was the type of dumb play that can make a difference, the type of bad baseball that we've grown accustomed to the Phils' opponents making in the postseason, not them.
But they've been all too prevalent this series. In that same inning, after Ryan Howard was intentionally walked and Jayson Werth hit by a pitch to load the bases, up came Jimmy Rollins with a chance to break the game open. A wild pitch even scored a run, making it 4-2 Phils, giving Rollins a the opportunity to make it 6-2 with a hit. Instead, he struck out by chasing ball four, ending the inning and leaving two important runs on base.
It was just one of several errors by Rollins. He booted a dead double play ball in the 7th, luckily bailed out by a double play by Pablo Sandoval the very next at-bat. Then he pulled a Jimmy in the 8th with Werth on 2nd after Jayson had doubled in Howard to tie the game, popping up weakly to the left fucking side, when all he really needed to do was pull the ball and get Werth to third with less than two outs. He didn't. Because he is playing like complete shit right now.
If Wilson Valdez was in the game, he would have bunted Werth to third, advancing the runner like you're supposed to. But Jimmy doesn't bunt, and Charlie doesn't ask him to bunt even in a clear bunting situation, because, well, just fucking because. So at the very least, Jimmy had to pull the ball. He didn't. He fucking sucks.
Not that it mattered, because Ben Francisco followed by striking out swinging, swinging fastball yet getting three straight sliders. Then Carlos Ruiz followed with an identical at-bat, the worst I've ever seen. Sergio Romo had not thrown anything but sliders to Werth, Rollins and Francisco. Carlos swung like he was getting a first-ball fastball. He did not. It was a slider, and he missed it, strike one. Then he watched a fat, hit-me slider right down the middle of the plate, the type of pitch that's just begging to be crushed, taking it for strike 2. And like Francisco, he then whiffed on a slider about a foot outside, ending the inning. It was the type of at-bat, especially after seeing what Romo did to Francisco, that should get a player fined. That's how egregious it was.
Really, it was a microcosm for this series. The Phillies putting together horrible at-bats, chasing bad pitches and missing the mistake pitches while the Giants bide their time and attack any mistake the Phils pitchers make.
On paper, the Phillies are the better team, the one with all the all-stars and MVPs. But right now, the Giants simply are better. They're capitalizing on the mistakes, not beating themselves, not getting themselves out. The Phillies are doing the complete opposite.
And last night, it was all triggered by the manager. After witnessing firsthand what can happen when you don't let your horse carry you in last season's World Series, refusing to pitch Cliff Lee on short rest despite his brilliance and dominance, you'd think Manuel would have learned his lesson. Lee was the only Phillies pitcher to beat the Yankees, was making a mockery of hitters all October, but he only got two chances to do it as the Phils lost in 6. Instead of learning from that and trusting his ace, and his other two aces, to go on short rest, he went with a man who hadn't pitched in a month, and he couldn't get out of the fifth inning. That set off a chain of events that led to another loss, and put the Phillies in a position to scramble.
They still have a chance in this thing. Roy Halladay is going tonight, and you can bet he wants to make up for his game 1 performance. And after that, there is still Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt if this thing comes back to Philadelphia, though now one or both will definitely be working on what can only be considered an abnormal routine.
The talent is there, but the play simply has not been. It's one thing when your players lose. It's another thing when your manager puts them in a position to lose. Last night was the single worst managed baseball game I've ever seen, and it came from the best Phillies manager of my liftetime.