The door closed behind Manuel, and he made his way down the narrow hallways, loping along in the half-limping, half-meandering gait of a man in no particular hurry. He passed the batting cages where the big problem was never solved, the netting hanging quietly like funeral shrouds, and kept on going.
"It's kind of funny, but you could see this coming. You could see how difficult it was becoming for us to win," Manuel said. "That's what happens when you are winning games the way we were. And a game like this one we just lost. We were winning those games, but sooner or later the laws of baseball come at you. Even though we swept Cincinnati, we were having trouble scoring runs, and it kind of grew on us."
Up the final steps and to the door of his office, Manuel looked across the hall to the quiet locker room and stopped for a moment.
"Our guys hung in there," he said, "but baseball takes its toll."
The price exacted by the game came due against the Giants. With another few breaks here or there, the Phillies could have survived the series, but they had apparently used up the allotment. Teams that bat .216 in a league championship series don't have the right to complain about a bad hop here or a home run that limps over the fence there.
As Manuel said, the Phils had been defying the odds for quite a while. When the team was two games over .500 on July 21, mired in third place and seven games back, the front office was within a day or two of shutting things down. Instead, the team ran off eight straight wins (six of them recorded by Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Jose Contreras, and David Herndon), and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. shrugged a what-the-hell shrug and traded for Roy Oswalt.
Starting with that streak, the Phils went 49-19 the rest of the way, and finished with a 27-9 burst that blew the doors off the division. They outpitched their biggest problem - a lack of power hitting; had the best record in baseball; and came within six more wins of another championship.
"I wouldn't say we overachieved, but we overcame," Ryan Howard said after the final loss. "We had a lot of adversity and a lot of injuries, and a lot of teams would have folded."
Well, not with Roy Halladay, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, they wouldn't have. Those guys made it difficult, if not impossible, to fall apart completely.
In some ways, the offense did its job this season, despite stints on the disabled list for every regular player but Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez. The Phils had a higher batting average than in 2009, and were second in the league in runs scored. But their stock in trade, slugging, took a dive, as did their batting with runners in scoring position.
Some of that was due to the injuries, some perhaps due to the aging of the offensive core, and some due to the adjustments by opposing teams.
"They go to school on our hitters. They pitch us backward a lot. . . . When we're ahead in the count, they don't give us fastballs," Manuel said at one point during the Giants series. "We're basically a fastball-hitting team. Sometimes we don't get a good ball to hit or to handle. And we don't make some of the adjustments."
After watching for a few years, the rest of baseball became convinced the Phillies could hit home runs and became determined not to let that beat them. The Phils fell to fifth in the NL for homers this season and fifth in slugging percentage. More telling, they were third-worst in the league for runners left on base, and stranded 45 during the Giants series.
"Watch the game. It'll tell you why you win and lose," Manuel said.
Repairing the leaks for the coming season is the next task, a job made more difficult by the probable loss of Werth to free agency. If the problem is merely that they are getting older, or more solvable for opponents, that will be a difficult fix.
"We'll be back," Shane Victorino said. "Look at our pitching."
That's certainly a great place to start, but even a superb rotation, as the Phillies found when baseball finally took its toll, doesn't guarantee a great finish.
Contact columnist Bob Ford
at 215-854-5842 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford