Phillies bring survivor mentality back to NLCS
It was just a bunt, a little roller in front of the mound off the bat of
Oh, the pain. Oh, the MRI. Oh, the rehab.
Wait a minute, check that. By the following night -- Monday's Game 4 of the Division Series -- Eyre was ready to run wind sprints with
Poised to defend their honor in the NLCS, which opens Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, the Phillies have a larger goal in mind: the first National League team to repeat as World Series champions since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds. "The Big Red Machine," as they were called. The Phillies have some big guys, and they dress in red, but they're not exactly a machine. They're more like a well-worn stock car, cranky and battered but somehow whipped into shape at the very last minute.
So much of this image was fostered last year, when consummate leader
It is nothing short of remarkable that
Learn a bit more about the man, though, and he's the perfect fit for a team -- and a city -- of survivors. Over the years, Manuel has managed to survive a heart attack, quadruple bypass surgery and prostate cancer. He has become an odd sort of local hero, forever evading the pitfalls of eccentricity.
With Game 2 of the Division Series in progress and the Phillies' Game 3 starter a total mystery, Manuel used two of the candidates,
A bit of Manuel magic:
The old-school baseball guys hate this. Never remove a starting pitcher when he's in command and just made a great hitter look bad. But here came a double-switch, removing one of the Phillies' best hitters (left fielder
Charlie just knows things, that's all. Spend enough time around his associates and you'll learn how much he taught
The Phillies were in Boston for an interleague series three years ago when Myers was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife on a busy street, just as the bars were letting out. Charges were dropped, but witnesses described a scene that left Myers' reputation in tatters. In a disturbing episode last year, Myers stalked angrily around the mound upon being removed from a game, then sarcastically doffed his cap and got into a vicious argument with Manuel in the dugout.
Very few managers would go out of their way to make such a rogue feel comfortable, but as summer gave way to autumn, Manuel set up his NLCS rotation so Myers wouldn't have to pitch on the road. He knew that opposing crowds would be in a heckling frenzy, and that Myers tends to get flustered, so he did the man a huge favor. Myers felt so invigorated, he got three hits in Game 2 against the Dodgers, driving home three runs, while picking up the win.
"Charlie knows how to manage a game," said first-base coach
So much of this team embodies the game's traditional essence. Rollins leads off as a game-changing protégé of his idol,
Still, for all that familiarity, these Phillies seem to lack an identity -- and they don't seem to want one. They survive, period. Call them champions, and that's quite enough.
"We must love the pressure," Rollins said earlier this season. "We must look forward to playing in a rough city. There's glory in it, you know? It's almost like a high, like how close can you get to the edge and still keep going?"
We're about to find out. At some point in this NLCS against the Dodgers, the Phillies will take a terrible pratfall. They'll be right on the edge. Put my money on a full recovery.