Marcus Hayes: Manuel expects his players to go hard every play

Posted: June 22, 2012

A HARD-WORN 68, Charlie Manuel likes to remember.

He remembers a long time ago, and he remembers what happened yesterday.

He remembers long ago attending one of those bigwig banquets and looking up at the head table.

That night's Mount Rushmore, shoulder to shoulder: Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron: 1,853 home runs, 44 All-Star selections, five MVP awards, three World Series rings and three Hall of Fame plaques.

More to Manuel's point, they played 8,634 games in 63 combined seasons.

"I remember seeing every one of those guys play," Manuel said before Thursday night's game.

"And I don't remember any of those guys not running hard."

Which implies, of course, that his guys do not always run hard. That is a reality he has been forced to accept.

"There are 29 other teams besides ours that accept it, too," Manuel said.

In 100-degree heat, Manuel warmed to the subject of hustle … or, the epidemic lack of it in major league baseball.

He warmed to the subject, because, on Wednesday night, two hustle plays from two hustle players on ground balls up the middle earned the Phillies a 7-6 win over the Colorado Rockies.

First, centerfielder Shane Victorino beat out a two-out ground ball up the middle. Marco Scutaro's lazy throw was late, and it continued a rally. A little hair on the throw and the game moves to extra innings; instead, Victorino loaded the bases. Placido Polanco then chipped one up the middle, ran hard against Scutaro's high and hurried throw and beat first baseman Todd Helton's lackadaisical effort at finding the bag.

Thursday, Manuel leaned against the cage during extra batting practice, his talon-like fingers entwined in the netting, a dangerous habit of his. It is a habit he lapses into when he feels distressed.

In reliving Wednesday night's comeback, Manuel felt distressed.

Hunter Pence had been hitless in his last nine at-bats at Citizens Bank Park, where he was hitting only .248 … before his desperate lash doubled in the tying run before Victorino's at-bat. Victorino's hustle play raised his overall average to?…?252.

"I remember," Manuel said, his fingers clawing at the netting, "when my centerfielder ran out every ball like that."

The comeback left the Phillies four games under .500 and eight games out of first in the National League East; and left Manuel seething at the missed opportunities.

"You know what [Wednesday] night was?" he asked, fingers tightening. "That was want to."

There has been much too little want to at the Bank this season.

Thursday night, it continued.

Jimmy Rollins smoothly worked an 0-2 count even and pulled a leadoff homer to leftfield. Pence singled, again, wickedly. Third baseman Jordan Pacheco had no shot when Victorino pulled a three-hopper down the line in the first inning; Victorino beat it out by two steps.

Starting pitcher Vance Worley, with the gait of a lumberjack, lumbered as fast as he could in the second and forced Pacheco into a hurried throw that went high and wide.

Carlos Ruiz got smacked in the glove and incurred a catcher's interference in the fourth, but he threw the runner out two pitches later. Rollins and Ruiz combined to nail Dexter Fowler at the plate in the eighth.

The Phillies lost, 4-1, thanks to a pair of two-out, two-run homers.

But, for the third straight night, there was a zest, a precision, lacking the first 31 home games, of which the Phillies won 12, worst in baseball.

Manuel tried cajoling, yelling, pleading. He had team meetings and one-on-one meetings. In the distant and recent past, Manuel asked players why they don't play like the Hammer, the Judge and Mr. Cub.

They say they're saving themselves.

"They say it's a 162-game season," Manuel said.

Manuel famously benched Rollins in 2008 for not running out a fly ball, one of the landmark moments en route to the franchise's second World Series title.

Manuel has not issued similar punishments since.

The Phillies have not won a World Series since.

Whenever Manuel speaks of hustle, he always speaks of the late Kirby Puckett, Manuel's favorite player — with 10 All-Star appearances, two World Series rings and a plaque after 12 seasons and almost 1,800 games.

Whether Puckett made $500 a month in the minors or $6 million a year in the majors, Manuel will tell you, Puckett never took a play off.

Are there any Pucketts in today's game?

Maybe Chase Utley would be one, but Manuel's $15 million second baseman has yet to decide whether his knees are fit to play this season.

Otherwise, "the only guy I can see who is consistent with that is the leftfielder in Washington," Manuel said. He meant Nationals rookie Bryce Harper.

With the Rays arriving Friday for the final interleague action of the season, the Phillies need to have a little Harper in their hop.  

Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

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