Manuel at the head of the Phillies' class

Charlie Manuel has manipulated his personnel superbly from the early days of spring training. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
Charlie Manuel has manipulated his personnel superbly from the early days of spring training. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
Posted: September 20, 2011

WHEN I'M King of the World . . .

Really good baseball teams will celebrate "foregone-conclusion" clinchings with the same class the Phillies displayed Saturday night.

That is how you do it when you've won the division for the fifth straight season with a dozen games left to play. With man-hugs, lots of high-fives and universal smiles, but no dog pile, or frenzied exuberance. Charlie Manuel was as happy as anybody, as well he should have been.

That's five straight NL East pennants for the manager some smartass columnist nicknamed "Elmer B. Fuddled." Well, Chuck has been "Elmer B. Winner" since then.

Manuel has manipulated his personnel superbly from the early days of spring training, when he learned Chase Utley would miss a significant portion of the regular season with patellar tendinitis; when it had become apparent injured and unready Dom Brown couldn't replace Jayson Werth in right.

The Phillies went long stretches without Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco - that's three-fourths of the infield - No. 3 starter Roy Oswalt and No. 5 Joe Blanton. With setup man Jose Contreras on the shelf, then out for the duration. With bench wizards Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez filling in at third, short and second. Early and often.

I saw Carlos Ruiz facing a 6-6 Mexican teenager in a rehab game for a Phillies extended spring-training squad. Oops, and here came Utley to start a rehab earlier than expected, hitting a pair of homers in his first game back.

Then Oswalt, pitching for the Clearwater Threshers in Bright House Field and showing the velocity-lowering consequences of his disc problem.

With the postseason approaching at warp speed, Oswalt was brilliant Saturday night, fashioning a necklace of seven scoreless innings with no walks, seven Ks and a fastball that crackled up in the zone. I think we can shelve the Oswalt or Worley debate for the time being.

The Phillies will finish with about 105 wins with Charlie walking a tightrope that sways between getting mentally geared for October baseball while - at the same time - backing down the innings throttle on Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Oswalt. The question of the week will center on what bullpen roles Worley and Blanton will play.

When I'm King of the World . . .

HBO's Boxing Division will use the magic of digital to cyber-stage Floyd Mayweather vs. Larry Merchant: Back to the Future . . .

It was going to take something really bizarre to top the Tyson-Holyfield performance of "King Ear." I was there on June 28, 1997, when Mike Tyson bit off the helix of Evander Holyfield's right ear, his second ear d'oeuvre of Round 3 . . . But in a Saturday night Round 4 for the ages, Victor Ortiz, badly outclassed by boxing's reluctant dragon, Floyd Mayweather, all hell broke loose in the final half minute of the round.

Ortiz left both feet to launch a head butt to the roped Mayweather's forehead that would have cost him $50,000 and a three game suspension in the NFL.

All it cost him in the PPV welterweight title fight was one point . . .

While veteran referee Joe Cortez appeared dazed and confused, the crack HBO pay-per-view team of Merchant, Jim Lampley and Emanuel Stewart was on another planet. The only thing they got right was that Mayweather won the fight.

They were not alone in their confusion. It turned out - at least on multiple, frame-by-frame views of those final seconds - that Cortez and Mayweather were the only ones who got it right.

OK . . . Roll it back to the head butt. Ortiz pulled away from Cortez and immediately planted a big, wet, kiss on Floyd's right cheek. The official backed him away, gave the head-butt sign, faced each of the three judges and deducted a point from the offending fighter.

Mayweather was chatting up ringsiders. Time had been called, of course. Now, Joe collected the combatants, and spread his arms wide. At real-time speed, he clearly says, "Let's go" at the same time he brings his hands together. From Andorra to Zaire that is the universal boxing signal that the fight is back on. Ortiz was still trying to apologize. Mayweather stood warily, ready for anything.

Now . . . As long as the fighters were not clinching, either could have done anything legal. The fight was back on. Cortez has been ripped for turning away from the fighters. But his next job was to make sure the official timekeeper at ringside had started his clock. Cortez was still waiting for a signal when Mayweather launched a short left hook that staggered Ortiz, who lurched into the ref's field of vision. Cortez turned toward the fighters just as Mayweather landed a devastating right to Ortiz' unprotected chin.

My favorite moment? When Mayweather snapped at venerable analyst Merchant. The angry confrontation ended with Mayweather barking, "HBO ought to fire your bleep. You don't know bleep about boxig . . . You don't know bleep. You ain't bleep . . . "

At which point the long-ago Daily News sports editor got in Mayweather's grill and said, "I wish I was 50 years younger; I'd kick your ass . . . "

Not many people know Merchant walked on for Bud Wilkinson's great Oklahoma Sooners team and was a tough little scrapper from Brooklyn. "I don't think I could have kicked Mayweather's ass," he said later. "But I would have tried."


Send email to bill1chair@aol.com.

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