Sam Donnellon: Best season yet for Phillies' Manuel

Charlie Manuel has successfully navigated this season of injuries and inconsistency and looks ready to lead his team to its fourth straight postseason appearance.
Charlie Manuel has successfully navigated this season of injuries and inconsistency and looks ready to lead his team to its fourth straight postseason appearance.
Posted: August 31, 2010

IF I WERE MANAGER of the Philadelphia Phillies, here are some things I might have already done.

Take Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot permanently.

Cut Raul Ibanez, or trade him for a bag of peanuts.

Bench Jayson Werth for at least a game after he was picked off second after an intentional walk.

Send Wilson Valdez back to the minors back in May.

Kick dirt all over Scott Barry.

Kick dirt all over Greg Gibson.

If you were manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, here are some of the things you might have already done.

Take Brad Lidge out of the closer role and insert Ryan Madson.

Take Ryan Madson out of the closer role and insert Jose Contreras.

Take Jose Contreras out of the closer role and insert your brother-in-law, who once had 40 saves in a single season of American Legion ball.

Bench Shane Victorino for not hitting. At least against righties.

"You have to give credit to Charlie for keep running me out there," Victorino said after his big day in Saturday's 3-1 victory over the Padres. "He could totally say, 'Let's go with Domonic [Brown] or other guys.' In that regard, I'm grateful he keeps running us out there."

This season is Charlie Manuel's best ever as a manager. Not because he's pushed all the right buttons or even half the right buttons. This season is his best because he's managed to not push that big red button, the one with panic written on it, the one many managers would have pushed weeks, streaks and injuries ago. Most notably, his predecessor, Larry Bowa.

The Phillies would make the playoffs if the season ended today. That's incredible really - Manager of the Year stuff - especially when you add up all the injuries to some key personnel, and the underachievement of some others. Say before the season that someone told you Chase Utley would miss 2 months, Jamie Moyer would tear up his arm, Joe Blanton would be awful for the first 3 months, Madson would break his toe throwing a tantrum, Kyle Kendrick again would be demoted, J.C. Romero would be ineffective, Rollins and Victorino would get hurt and not hit, and Ibanez would be an automatic out for the first half of the season.

What would you say their record should be on Aug. 31?

People get bugged when they see Rollins smile in the middle of a four-game sweep by the Astros, get annoyed when the video clips coming from the locker room afterward do not reflect appropriate beats of the brow and remorse. If you and your neighbors watch this team with your windows open, you are well aware of the civic groan emitted when Lidge jogs in from the bullpen, even as he has done better of late.

Manuel is a man of faith. Faith in the game, which translates into faith in his players. That's not the same as approval. When Rollins is thrown out stealing third with the big guns coming to the plate, when Werth walks back into a base with his head down, he doesn't like it any more than you do.

But unlike some of his control-freak peers, he rarely spanks. He gets it that pennants are won by guys who play unafraid, who play big in big spots. He gets it that even a little browbeating in this sport can erode confidence and erode chemistry, too.

Before he arrived, the Phillies were a team that habitually shrunk the bigger the series got.

Their reputation now is precisely the opposite.

I will always remember driving from Lehigh in 2006 listening to afternoon radio guys dismiss him as a liability, laughing over what a mismatch a series between Tony LaRussa and he would be. At that moment in time, LaRussa's Cardinals had the best record in baseball, and the debate over letting Bowa go still lingered here.

The Cardinals went into such a tailspin over the last 2 months that they nearly missed the playoffs completely. They rallied in the postseason, and won the World Series, but Manuel's team finished with a better regular-season record that year than LaRussa's team did. As for head-to-head, Manuel has won every season matchup as the Phillies manager, except for a 3-3 tie in 2006 and this season's 4-4 tie.

Bottom line: Should they meet in the postseason, the mismatch angle will be a hard sell. Manuel's team won the World Series in 2008 as an underdog. Underdogs again last October, the Phillies made it to the sixth game with an unreliable closer and with just one starter pitching up to his abilities.

If the season ended today, he would have managed a team into the postseason for the fourth season in a row. A team that has been crippled by injuries and off-years, a team that has looked at times to be on the verge of collapse.

Charlie doesn't always push the right buttons, and those buttons sometimes malfunction anyway. But he's never gone near that red one, not even in this trying season, and in doing so has given us a tutorial on one big difference between baseball and other sports.

They are called managers for a reason. Manuel might not be able to explain that.

But he sure as hell can show you.

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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