"That's when I suspected what it was about," he said.
It's always easy to debate All-Star Game selections and even easier to criticize a voting process that sometimes rewards reputation over merit. But as far as the Phillies are concerned this year, the system worked.
Ryan Howard probably should be on the National League team. Despite his slow start and stint on the disabled list, he now has more home runs (19) and RBIs (57) than Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee, who will join starter Prince Fielder (27 homers, 66 RBIs) in San Francisco. Howard's problem is that a lot of ballots were cast while he was struggling.
"You can't go every year," Howard said. "I was hurt for a while. Maybe that's the reason, I don't know."
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is also a victim of the numbers game. He's having a great year, but how do you leave the Mets' stellar Jose Reyes or Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy and his 18 homers off the team?
It's mystifying that neither Rollins nor Howard is among the five players on the fan ballot to choose the final roster spot.
The system worked just fine for the three Phillies who are going. Utley is a given at this point. He's the best second baseman in the league and the fan voting reflected that. Barring serious first-half slumps, he figures to go every year until the mid-2010s.
Hamels could be with him most years. He might have been overlooked in the days when the league's managers could pick and choose pitchers, sometimes with a little prejudice in the mix. Hamels was third in the player voting, a high compliment based less on his numbers (9-4, 3.87 ERA) than on how tough it is to hit him.
"I actually thought I blew it in the last month," Hamels said, referring to a few less-than-stellar recent starts. "This is a tremendous compliment, to have their respect. I'm going because of them. It means I've succeeded in getting them out and frustrating them - and they've definitely frustrated me, too."
This is Hamels' first full season. It is Rowand's seventh. He spent the first five years with the Chicago White Sox, earning a World Series ring in his final season there. In his injury-shortened debut in Philadelphia, Rowand became better known for running face-first into the center-field fence than for his actual production.
That hasn't been an issue this year. Rowand still goes full throttle on every play, but he has put up terrific numbers, too. His .312 batting average is 10th in the NL, third among outfielders. He has hit in clutch situations and has moved into the key lineup spot behind Howard.
"I give him all the credit," Manuel said. "He had a tough spring. He couldn't buy a hit and he was really fighting himself. He's worked hard for this. It's a good sign that somebody is seeing how he's played."
Rowand was chosen in the third possible way, by NL manager Tony La Russa, after the fan and player voting overlooked him.
"I go out and play hard every day because I want to try to help my team win," Rowand said. "It's nice to be recognized for that, it really is. I'm deeply honored. I already feel so fortunate to be able to play a game for a living, to be able to play in front of fans. I think everyone would like to make an all-star team, but I hadn't really thought about it.
"My goal was always to win a World Series. Now it's to win another one."
Obviously, Phillies fans would like to see him do that here, preferably this season. The team didn't do much to help itself during a miserable four-game series against the first-place Mets. The Phillies' only established starter in the series was Hamels, who is 23, and he scuffled in a loss Friday night.
Instead of overtaking the Mets, the Phillies dropped back to third place. It was a disappointing but hardly surprising showing. Pitching is still the hole letting all the air out of the team's balloon.
For a day, though, you could enjoy a win and appreciate the players who give Phillies fans hope. If they're going to catch the Mets, Utley, Hamels and Rowand, along with Howard and Rollins, will have to carry them.
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.