The Phillies fell to the Nationals, 4-2, but rookie Darin Ruf continued his surge since stepping into the starting lineup 8 days earlier by accounting for both of his team's runs with a pair of solo home runs.
"If we didn't have Ruf, we might not score on Washington," Manuel joked.
After hitting a three-run double in a 7-3 loss in the final game of the year at Citizens Bank Park against Washington on Thursday, Ruf hit a two-run triple in Monday's 2-1 win over the Nats.
Since getting his first start of the season two Mondays ago, Ruf has hit .379 (11-for-29) with six extra-base hits in eight games, including three home runs. Not bad for a kid who sat on the bench for the first 14 games after he was called up last month.
"Baseball is baseball," the 26-year-old Ruf said. "The level of play is better up here. But pitchers throw a lot more strikes. They have more command, which as a hitter you're in there with an idea that you can swing at every pitch and be OK almost. It's nice to have that philosophy and be a little more aggressive."
Manuel will take it.
Before the first pitch was thrown Tuesday, with just two games remaining in a lost season, the remnants of Monday night's crowning of the new NL East champs remained with the manager like a migraine headache that just wouldn't go away.
"We're going to win," Manuel said, already looking to reclaim the NL East in 2013. "We're going to come back and we're going to be better. I'm determined of that. Whatever it takes."
With the Nats resting regulars after sewing up the division and the Phils doing the same with the season less than 24 hours from being over, the happenings of Tuesday's game were mostly meaningless, with the exception of Ruf.
Ruf was among six of the Phillies' starting nine on Tuesday who began the season in the minor leagues. Chase Utley was the only player in the lineup who is a lock to be in the same lineup in April.
But for Manuel, it isn't so much the personnel that needs to change, although there are obvious holes to fill in the next 4 months. It's also the way his team goes about playing the game, something he has mentioned more than a couple of times on the final road trip of 2012.
Before Tuesday's game, Manuel went on a mini-rant, emphasizing the point again.
"You'll never hear me cry about the talent that we have," he began. "You've heard me say before, 'I'll work with anybody we got.' One of the things we - and when I say 'we,' I'm talking about myself, too - can get better because of the way I've seen us play. The mental part, the mistakes we made on defense and in the game. I take that on myself. It might take me more than a year to correct all the mistakes we made.
"At the same time, I need to be better. Our coaches need to be better as far as demanding players and holding them accountable for mistakes."
The mistakes Manuel saw from his younger, unproven players, he said, never really subsided.
"As far as learning, and showing me the knowledge that they can get more consistent," Manuel said when asked if he saw improvement, "I don't think I saw that."
At the conclusion of every season, one of the first items on the agenda is to evaluate the coaching staff. Mets manager Terry Collins, for example, announced Monday his entire coaching staff would return for 2013.
After being asked if he's been doing his own evaluating - and with Triple A manager Ryne Sandberg waiting in the wings for a big-league job - Manuel wanted to make sure he wasn't pointing the finger at his staff.
"I haven't said anything about the coaching staff," Manuel said. "I'm comfortable with the coaches. I'm definitely not sending them a message that they didn't do their job. I'm just saying that, what I see, we've got to improve."
Part of that improvement will still come with different players given different opportunities next spring. After a monster 2012, Ruf will be at the front of the line.
Ruf has remarkably carried over his success at Double A Reading into the big leagues. Ruf has 41 home runs in 150 games between the Phils (three) and Double A Reading (38) this season.
"He's hit 40-something home runs this year, hit .300 in the minor leagues," Manuel said. "Who else does that? That gets your attention. That's not 10 or 12 home runs or 30 or 40 RBIs, that's big hitting . . .
"[Guys can] hit their way into the lineup. You can hit into it right now with how our offense is. Someone could definitely hit their way into our offense. That's how I feel about it."
At the end of a weary 6 months of baseball, Ruf's swings made Manuel feel somewhat better on the penultimate day of the season.
Contact Ryan Lawrence at email@example.com.