Inside the Phillies: Manuel, Phillies start second leg of a magical season

Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz tags out the Braves' Dan Uggla, who was trying to score on a base hit. The4-3 victory gave the Phils a club-record 102 for the season. More coverage in Sports, Section D.
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz tags out the Braves' Dan Uggla, who was trying to score on a base hit. The4-3 victory gave the Phils a club-record 102 for the season. More coverage in Sports, Section D. (JOHN BAZEMORE / Associated Press)
Posted: September 29, 2011

ATLANTA - Charlie Manuel is now the king of everything and still a man in search of a crown.

In most dramatic fashion, the Phillies rallied from a two-run deficit during Wednesday night's series finale at Turner Field and pulled out a 4-3, 13-inning victory that completed the Atlanta Braves' monstrous September free-fall.

The victory served a trio of purposes for the Phillies.

Most important, it resolved the issue of which team they will play in the National League division series that begins Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.

By shutting out the Astros down in Houston, the St. Louis Cardinals finished a furious September rally past the Braves to earn the National League wild-card berth. Two weeks after clinching their fifth straight division title against the Cardinals and then dropping eight straight games to send the region's angst-o-meter skyrocketing, the Phillies will stare down St. Louis.

Despite their only lengthy losing streak of the season, the Phillies still managed to reach a franchise record 102 victories by beating the Braves in the season finale.

Wednesday's win also allowed Manuel to pass the acerbic and infamous Gene Mauch for the most managerial wins in Phillies history. Manuel is 646-488 in seven seasons. Mauch actually lost more games than he won and was more well-known for overseeing the collapse of the 1964 Phillies and a 23-game losing streak in 1961 that remains a major-league record.

Manuel, a controversial hire in 2005 and a lightning rod when the team failed to win in his first two seasons, now is a Philadelphia legend, probably more beloved than any manager or head coach in the history of the city. He is definitely loved and appreciated by his players.

"I think one of the biggest things is I think they know how much I love the game and I think that comes through," Manuel said. "When I managed in the minor leagues I had just as much fun, maybe even more fun, than I'm having now."

Manuel admitted, however, that this season has been something special even if the ultimate goal of winning a World Series is still in front of them.

"This has been exciting, this has been good," he said. "It has been a good trip, but at the same time we haven't finished the journey. We have a little ways to go yet. That's the way I look at it.

"But our season, there was a lot of good things about it. Being around our team and our guys and winning [102] games, that's been good."

Billed as the year of the Four Aces, it became an even better pitching story than that for the Phillies.

"Probably I'll remember our starting pitching," Manuel said. "But also I'll remember how [Antonio] Bastardo and [Mike] Stutes really stepped up to become big pieces of our bullpen to go with [Ryan] Madson at the end when [Jose] Contreras got hurt."

And then there was Vance Worley, the righthander who emerged as the best rookie starting pitcher in the National League.

"You can include Worley in that, too," Manuel said. "I won't forget him. I just will remember how good our pitching was. That will be the first thing that pops into my mind."

The offensive player Manuel will remember most is Hunter Pence, the trade-deadline addition who energized and balanced what had been a struggling lineup.

"He has given us probably even a little bit more than we expected," Manuel said. "He has been very productive for us and a good fit for us."

Pence provided the game-winning hit, a broken-bat single to right field, to allow the Phillies and Manuel to achieve this milestone victory.

By Thursday morning, Manuel will likely have erased all memory of this ultra-successful regular season and begin focusing on what lies ahead.

Just a few days ago, there was some serious concern about a team that had lost eight in a row after clinching its fifth straight division title. The manager said he thought his team had lost some focus.

Now, the consensus seems to be that that the Phillies' slide should be dismissively chalked up to a combination of disinterest and the lack of a cohesive lineup while Manuel rested some of his ailing veterans.

The Phillies clearly seemed invigorated by the fact that the Braves were playing for something during these three games in Atlanta and they responded with a sweep that extended their final winning streak of the regular season to four games.

Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth believes his former Phillies teammates know how to win when the games mean the most.

"I think you can look back to '07 when the Mets couldn't win and the Phillies couldn't lose," he said. "Every game from September on was a must-win game and '08 was the same way. We got swept in the playoffs in '07, but all of September in '07 and all of September in '08, we played must-win games and came from behind. I think that team learned how to win must-win games because we were put in that situation so much."

Now, the Phillies have once again reached the must-win stage of their season and they have a chance to go down as the greatest team in franchise history.


Inside the Phillies: Coming Friday

Get ready for the Phillies-Cardinals series with a complete NLDS preview.


Inside the Phillies: Coming Friday

Get ready for the Phillies-Cardinals series with a complete NLDS preview.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com

or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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