Opinion

Somebody Has to Say It

The immediate days after the World Series were surely more fun last year.

At the same time, losing hurt a lot more in 1993. So I guess it’s true: winning is the easiest cure for losing. Had the Phillies not beat the Rays last season, I’d probably be beside myself after a loss like Wednesday night.

Now I know that I might take some heat for this column. People might not like what I have to say, but sometimes you have to make a point rather than try to win a popularity contest.

In a world where Facebook statuses and Twitter updates are up-to-the-second with what is going on, everybody is entitled to their opinion. Yet, that doesn’t mean everybody’s opinion is correct. It also doesn’t mean mine is correct either, so take it with a grain of salt.

Midway through Wednesday night’s disappointment, I pulled out my phone and read how people were bitching on FB and Twitter and the general consensus was “must be nice to buy a championship” or “at least we bring up our own players.”

I’d like to think it’s that easy, but let’s be real. The better team won. If it was that easy to “buy a championship” how come the Yankees hadn’t won since 2000? Hell, how come they hadn’t been to a World Series since 2003? Sure New York went out and spent $423 million dollars last off-season, but how much of that money really beat our beloved Phillies this past week?

C.C. Sabathia 0-1 3.29 ERA 13.2 IP 11 H 6 BB 12K

A.J. Burnett: 1-1 7.00 ERA 9 IP 8 H 6 BB 11 K

Mark Teixeira: .136 AVG 3/22 1 HR 3 RBI

The Phillies lost to the likes of Derek Jeter and his 11 hits, along with Johnny Damon with his base running and killer at-bats. Hideki Matsui and his all-world performance in only three starts. Mariano Rivera and his….well he’s just that damn good.

To go along with that, the Phillies lost because Ryan Howard went 4-23. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino hit a combined .200. Solo homeruns don’t win games. Cole Hamels just couldn’t get it going this postseason and the World Series was no different.

When you draw 26 walks and only score 27 runs, something didn’t go right. The Phillies leading hitter this World Series was Carlos Ruiz batting out of the eight and nine hole. This leads me to my biggest culprit this series: Charlie Manuel.

If you are a Manuel lover, now is the time to move to a different posting on this website. Sure, Charlie doesn’t play on the team so his role in the loss can’t be measured in batting average, runs scored or earned run average. When certain people are hitting and others aren’t, it’s not that hard to juggle a lineup and change things up a bit. The Yankees left-handed pitchers completely owned Ryan Howard this series. Why not Howard move to fifth and let Werth hit clean up against the lefties? Why not move Chooch up in the order? Why not split up the struggling combination of Rollins and Victorino to get some men on base for Utley? Manuel’s poor management of this series can sure lead you to second guess a lot of things that happened over the course of the six games.

Game One – Despite having a 6-0 lead, Manuel sent Cliff Lee back out for the ninth inning. In any short series, it isn’t hard to know that your best pitcher is most valuable when you can use him in as many games as possible. Had Lee come out of the game with a comfortable lead, the possibility of pitching him on three days of rest to set up another date with Sabathia in Game Four could have been a more realistic possibility. Instead, Lee went back out, finished the game, labored a bit in the ninth and threw 122 pitches in the opening game.

Game Two – This game featured the the infamous decision not to start the runners before what turned out to be an inning-ending double play by Chase Utley. Manuel then lambasted Tim McCarver for suggesting that he might have made the wrong decision. I’m not a big McCarver fan, but this time he’s right. When playing from behind against the greatest closer ever, you can’t play scared – you have to play aggressive. If you start the runners and Utley hits a line-drive it’s a double play. However, if you don’t start them and Utley hits a hard groundball (like he did) it’s the same double play. The call might have been blown, but the inning before New York was on the short end of the stick – so that evened out. Had Charlie started the runners, the Phillies would have had men on 2nd and 3rd for Ryan Howard with two outs in a two-run game. We’ll never know…

Game Three – A lot went wrong for the Phillies on Saturday night. However a few big spots stick out. Up 2-0 and with Andy Pettitte on the ropes, would it have been that hard for Manuel to send a “take” sign to Sam Perlozzo before Victorino’s at-bat in the second inning? Rollins had just drawn a quick walk and Victorino was swinging out of his shoes on the next two pitches. Victorino managed to save face with a sacrifice fly, but imagine if he was a bit more patient at the plate and gets the hit that changes the game. This one isn’t all Charlie; I’m just pointing it out.

My biggest gripe with Manuel in this game was using Eric Bruntlett as his sixth-inning pinch hitter with a man on and two outs. Down 6-4, Manuel decided to save Ben Francisco for an opportunity that never came and went with Bruntlett – who had 18 more hits than I did this season – against Pettitte. A fly ball ended the inning and any chance at a rally to tie the game.

Game Four – Not starting Cliff Lee, who had said he would have started on three days rest might have been the beginning of the end for the Phillies. Joe Blanton pitched good enough to keep the team in the game, but if you are going to trade for the difference-making ace in midseason, don’t you have to use him every chance you get? Look at C.C. and his workload the past two years. Pedro Feliz bailed out this poor decision (another decision that Manuel took offense to in post game press conferences, may I remind you) with a home run to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. However, it was the ninth inning that made this a 3-1 Yankees series lead.

Some people questioned bringing in Brad Lidge to start the ninth. I had no issues with it. I thought he had earned the right with his performance last year as well as his performance throughout the playoffs this year. But when Johnny Damon got on base, everybody in the Delaware Valley knew he was taking second base. Lidge couldn’t keep base runners on all year and this situation was no different. How could a pitchout have not been an option? Let’s rewind first though. Before the two-bag steal, Manuel called for an infield shift that we all know left 3rd base unattended. I can count on my hands the amount of times that the Phils used this shift this year, so not sure why he thought it was a good idea in this spot against Tex. Why do it with two-outs and a man on first? A single doesn’t beat you there. No pitchout, shift in place, we all know what happens next…man on third, Lidge’s slider seemingly a liability should it get in the dirt, a fat fastball to A-Rod, and a Posada double all add up to a 7-4 loss that will not soon be forgotten.

Game Five – The questionable calls by Manuel on Monday night wound up being all-for-nothing as Game 7 never happened, however they sure made you think. Again with a six-run lead, Manuel sent Cliff Lee out to the mound in the seventh when conservation was key. “The Jeweler” as my friends and I like to call Lee (because he deals in gems) got into trouble to start the inning and had to be pulled. Also in the eventful eighth inning, Charlie pulled out Victorino due to his sore hand. Whenever Shane had to come out during the regular season, Werth moved to centerfield. Instead, it was Francisco who went to center and Werth stayed in right. I think we all remember the throw to the plate that Francisco attempted to make. The Phils went on to win the game, but it just kept bringing more and more questions to mind about what was going on in Charlie’s head during the series.

Game Six was the one game the Phillies were never really in. I’m not pinning this one on Charlie or pointing out any of his judgmental shortcomings for Wednesday night. One team showed up to play, the other didn’t.

Like I said, it is easy to point fingers at anybody over a tough loss; and while Hamels and Lidge struggled on the mound and Howard along with almost the entire offense struggled at the plate, Charlie Manuel labored from his spot on the steps. Last year, I thought Joe Maddon outmanaged Manuel, but the Phillies were the better team so it wasn’t as big a factor. This year, the Phillies couldn’t afford to have that same luxury.

I’m not asking for Charlie’s head. Far from it. Managers make mistakes throughout the course of the season, and when you win three division titles and two pennants in a row those mistakes are quickly forgotten. However, over the span of a six-game series to end the season, mistakes made will stick out like sore thumbs and will be remembered all winter long.

Yet too many people were giving the skipper a free pass and I know I’ll take some heat from this on the comments page. You can agree or disagree to those point, but I think we can all agree on a couple things:

  • The Phillies are still the class of the National League. One day after the season ended, the Phillies have to be the favorites to get back to the World Series. They are more complete top-to-bottom than any of their competitors in the Senior Circuit.
  • Decisions have to be made. Pedro Feliz, Pedro Martinez, Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers are the four biggest question marks when talking about who comes back and who walks away. Who would you bring back?
  • While Hamels and Lidge had rough seasons, getting Hamels back to form is the biggest priority in the off-season. If Lidge doesn’t have it, there are other closing options – not only on the current roster, but others that will be available during the course of next season. However, there aren’t many pitchers who have showed the capabilities that Hamels has juts hanging around. If Cole can get back to 2008 form, the 1-2 punch of Lee and Hamels can be a knockout. But if Cole can’t find that form that put the ’08 Phillies over the top, it leaves a lot of people wondering what to do with the former World Series MVP.

Here’s to a helluva season….95 days until pitchers and catchers report.

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