Sam Donnellon | Manuel, Phillies pass a test

Posted: September 18, 2007

ST. LOUIS - You want positives? Here's one: Charlie Manuel is in great health.

He took a stress test last night and passed. Then he took another one, and another one and another one, so by the end of the night - as Tony La Russa spoke ebulliently about "the best near-miss game he's ever been involved in" - the Phillies' manager sat slumped back behind a desk in the visitors' clubhouse, shirt soaked, wearing the look of a man whose parachute finally opened a hundred feet from the ground.

"I wish I could put into words how I feel," he said finally. "I wish I could let you feel everything that I felt out there tonight. I'll go back to the room and I will just collapse, fall asleep and I won't wake for 7 hours."

You want positives? The Phillies didn't blow a 12-3 lead. Not all of it anyway. They didn't live to regret trading Russell Branyan to the Cardinals, as he struck out on a 3-2 pitch with two men on in the ninth inning to preserve their 13-11 win.

Remember that late lead in Atlanta? What was it, 8-2, in the eighth? Never happen again, you say? Freak occurrence? Well, how does 11-0 grab you? Against a team that had won once in its last 11 games, a team decimated by injuries, a team that already had begun to replace their regulars, so out of hand did the game seem.

Ah, but then in marched members of the Phillies' bullpen, all save the ones who can actually pitch. "Our bullpen at times does its job," Manuel had said before the game. "But it comes and goes."

Ah, such a prophet. Sure enough, in came Clay Condrey in the seventh inning last night, looking to protect a 12-3 lead.

Four singles and two runs later, he went.

In came Jose Mesa. He surrendered four more runs before he, too, went.

Antonio Alfonseca came in to pitch the eighth. He got an out, allowed a hit, walked a guy, and then he went.

Enter Kane Davis.

And so it went, like a man trying to plug holes in a foundation with wet mud. Six relievers came. Five went. "We only had Durbin left in the 'pen," Manuel said, then cackled, "I'll see if we can get on the phone, get some more call-ups for tomorrow."

Eight runs and four innings later, with runners in motion on the 3-2 pitch, Francisco Rosario struck out Branyan and the Phillies bolted onto the field as if on a jailbreak.

"Yeah, they've been losing," Manuel had warned about the Cardinals before the game. "But take 'em for granted. See if they can beat you."

The Phillies didn't take them for granted. This season, that day in Atlanta, have fed them more humble pie than any collection of position players should endure, particularly ones with as many gamers as this team has on it. They lead, or are near the lead, of more than a dozen offensive categories this season, and have provided the greatest summer theater the town has seen in two decades.

And when Aaron Rowand blasted his second home run in the ninth, well, that should have been a lucky 13.

And yet there was Rosario, the sixth reliever used on this ugly, unsettling night, two men on, two out in the ninth. A 3-2 count to, of all people, ex-Phillie Branyan.

And there was Charlie, in the dugout, with "people talking to me from every angle."

"People just throwing questions at me, left and right. I went to the mound once and the look I got from Jimmy and Chase," he said. "I mean, 'What is going on here?' "

Branyan watched the pitch.

Strike three.

Honest to God.

And almost by default, that miserable day in Atlanta maintained its status as the season's low-water mark. For now.

The Phillies won ugly. The Mets lost uglier. The race tightened. Tonight, Manuel starts a pitcher who can give him 70 pitches tops, which means he will make at least a few trips to the mound. Some of the guys rested last night will be called upon. Some of the ones used last night might be, too.

That's when the manager was asked if he had undergone a stress test recently. "Just did," he said, and the room filled with laughter.

"I'll be glad to take an EKG right now, too," he said. *

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