In Defense of Uncle Chuck

As players and managers prepare sleeplessly for the Grape Fruit League, the Phillies find themselves facing legitimate expectations. In order to meet these lofty goals, bean-counting management has again provided Charlie Manuel with a patchwork lineup.

Expecting more than five innings out of either Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick is wishful thinking. And as for the 5th starter, well let’s just say I don’t think Johan Santana will get a lot of Cy Young competition from Adam Eat-Me.

Charlie Manuel will have to make a lot of moves this season, especially when you throw in a starting left fielder that becomes a defensive debacle waiting to happen- a risk that cannot be taken far after the sixth inning- and then have a defensive replacement’s weak bat in the heart of the Phillies’ order, so you either let a chump like So Taguchi try to protect Howard, or make another move, emptying the bench.

Especially considering that our new closer just re-injured his surgically repaired leg, and the fact that either the seventh or eight inning still belongs to Tom Gordon, who will give up a couple of key bombs before he gets injured, Charlie Manuel will again be forced to turn his line up card into a laundry list of scratch-outs, and ‘he’s-still-in-the-league?’ names.

Lucky, Uncle Charlie is pretty good at this.

For all that he’s been tattooed by Howard Eskin and shortsighted Phillies fans (how ya doin’ out there, New Jersey?), I trust Manuel with these decisions (but, seriously, Charlie, every time your write the name Helms on lineup cards besides lineup cards of people who suck…you test my faith, man). Yes, the man talks like he just stumbled out of the sticks. Get over it.You probably talk funny to.

The guy know his shit. Some of the critics claim that he plays to closely by ‘the book.’ He does enjoy those righty-lefty match ups, and playing the numbers, but that doesn’t make a man stupid. In fact, just about every time Manuel got jammed on a decision, I felt like I understood his point of view. And sure, some of his plays blew up, but that will happen when your running Rosario, Condrey, Mesa and Alfonseca (who actually showed a lot of guts last season, and was understandably gassed by the end) out of the bullpen, while all of right field is injured, and left field is hitting a buck fifty. To back up my point, let’s revisit one of Chuckles’ most controversial decisions: Pulling Kyle Kendrick in Game 2 against the Rockies

Biggest crowd in the Bank’s history. The Phillies has just taken their first lead of the series. The stadium started to sound a little bit like a Philadelphia team was playing a home playoff game (yet still miles away the decimals we hit back in the Vet in 1993).

Kyle Kendrick began the frame by surrendering a lead off double. After retiring the next two batters, Kendrick intentionally walked Yorvit Torrealba to get to the nine whole.

This was a smart intentional walk: the Rockies either had to abandon their runner in scoring position, or pinch-hit for their pitcher. They selected the latter, pinch-hitting Seth Smith for starter Franklin Morales.

Chalk one up for Manuel: three innings into a key playoff game, Manuel had already guided the Phillies into the opponent’s bullpen.

Smith proceeded to squirt one down the third baseline. I actually had a pretty good vantage point of this infield squibbler, and it was a tough play. But for Christ’s sake- this is the playoffs- somebody has to turn that horseshit into the third out.

But alas, who was manning third base that afternoon? None other than our good friend, Mr. Wes Helms. Wesley had to eat it like a Thanksgiving Dinner. Big Punisher bunts for base hits on Wes Helms. Smith is safe. Bases juiced.

In steps Kaz Matsui, and Big Chuckles takes that slow walk out to the mound. The boos swell throughout the stadium as Kendrick hits the showers and mid-season acquisition Kyle Lohse chugs in from the bullpen. It’s the right decision.

Fist of all, Kendrick, bless him, was actually getting hit kind of hard. In the first inning Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holiday had tagged him for back-to-back bombs.

As for relief pitchers, Lohse was the closest thing the Phils had to a long reliever, especially considering that Adam Eaton had pitched his way off the post-season roster. But the most important thing, the thing everybody seems to forget, is that Adam Lohse should be able to get Kaz Matsui out. Manuel liked the match up and from the beginning of the at bat, you could see why. Lohse quickly got ahead 1-2. With that commanding advantage, Lohse had at least one waste pitch. He had 45,000 fans screaming, waving towels, anticipating a third strike, and he just came up with some junk, a fastball about two feet below its intended target. The Phillies season ended, for all intents and purposes, a few seconds later in the right field bleachers.

And Manuel looked like a fool, and got a hot shower of boos as he yanked Lohse. And yes, it was a controversial decision, but far from the buffoonery it has been made out to be.

Asking a 22 year old rookie to save the season and retire a switch hitting veteran with the bases loaded and two outs in a playoff game in which your confidence has already been significantly shaken is asking a lot…might have happened, but it’s asking a lot.

Asking a veteran like Kyle Lohse to not give up a grad slam on a 1-2 pitch to a punk like Matsui? Seems to me like Manuel put his pitcher in a position to succeed. And that’s perhaps what Manuel does best. Manuel knew exactly when Pat Burrell needed a week off, and exactly when and where to reinsert him in the batting order, riding the slugger’s surge from the six hole up to the three hole with time. Without anyone noticing, Manuel also allowed hardnosed catcher Carlos Ruiz to develop into a much needed rock behind the plate. Manuel has shown a willingness to bench big contracts, and get the most out of journey men backups like Gregg Dobbs and Jason Werth.

Despite his reputation, Manuel is willing to take chances. Sometimes they don’t pay off, but for a franchise that’s going on two decades without a chip, it’s time to start thinking aggressively around here. Go get ‘em, Chuck.

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One Response

  1. I have this sneaking suspicion that Manuel has Parkinson’s but your article convinced me that for a guy with Parkinson’s, he’s still pretty capable.

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