Manuel's decisions mostly backfire, pushing Phillies to the brink

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Charlie Manuel sat behind the microphone, and he knew what was coming. He's 66 years old, and he's coming on a half century in professional ball, and he's managed more than 1,400 games counting the playoffs, and, yeah, after his Phillies lost to the Giants 6-5 to move to the brink of elimination he knew exactly what was coming.

When did you decide to use Roy Oswalt?Why not pitch [Roy] Halladay today?Just curious, in the eighth inning, Jimmy Rollins came in ... was it considered to bunt?When Ben Francisco ... did you think about hitting Raul Ibañez there?

Yes, he knew it was coming, all those second-guesses, all those questions, and there would have been more questions -- WHY let Joe Blanton hit in the fourth? WHY have Kyle Kendrick on the roster if you have no intention of pitching him? Why not turn around Pablo Sandoval in the big moment? -- but there was only so much time, and there was only so much hammerin' the media could do to a nice man whose team is in big trouble. Yes, Charlie's Phillies are now down three games to one to San Francisco. They are on the brink of elimination in this National League Championship Series. They are doing more or less nothing right.

"They were asking me today about that we like to play with our backs against the wall," Charlie said in the sole light moment of his post-game interrogation. "I think we're going to get a chance."

They will get that chance, yes. Wednesday night's game in San Francisco was raw, flawed, dazzling, ugly, confusing and entirely wonderful. It was the one of those rare postseason games where so many things happened that even minutes after the game ended it's hard to remember them all. It's fun to relive. The Giants scored a run in the first, helped by two wild pitches from Blanton. The Giants made it 2-0 in the third when Buster Posey's double scored Aubrey Huff. America's getting to see just how gifted Posey is ... and imagine his future. Meanwhile, the Phillies offense, like it has almost the entire series, sputtered. Not to give anything away, but this was the third straight game that the Phillies did not hit a home run.

But the Phillies did score four runs in the fifth -- they finally put together some hits -- though the play that stands out from that rally was Philadelphia's Carlos Ruiz, with one out, getting thrown out at the plate by a strong throw from center fielder Aaron Rowand and a spectacular short-hop scoop and tag by Posey. Why was Ruiz sent with only one out and the heart of the Phillies lineup coming up? Put that question on the pile.

The Giants made it 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth, then took a lead in the sixth when Sandoval hit a two-run double. Oh, that Sandoval at-bat was epic. You probably know the Ballad of Pablo Sandoval -- he was the heart of San Francisco last year, he hit .330, crushed 44 doubles and 25 homers by hitting balls that were over his head and down at his shoelaces, they called him Kung Fu Panda and then DRESSED UP like Pandas, it was all so beautiful. And then this year, everything went wrong, Sandoval stopped hitting, then he mostly stopped playing, the Panda costumes seemed passe (though people kept wearing them).

And here he was in the sixth -- first game he has started in the series -- there were runners on second and third, and Phillies pitcher Chad Durbin was basically told to NOT throw him a strike because there was a base open and because Sandoval on his various Internet bios will list "Bad pitches" among his main interests. Durbin threw a pitch just a bit too good, and Sandoval ripped it down the right-field line where it may have hit the line, which would have made it a fair ball. It looked that way on replay, though NFL officials probably would have ruled it inconclusive. Since baseball has no replay, it was called foul, sending Sandoval back to the plate ("I just calmed down myself," Sandoval said. "Count to 10. Breathe."). This time Durbin threw him a 91-mph fastball way up and a touch outside. But not TOO FAR up and not TOO FAR outside. Sandoval crushed it to left, that's the two-run double in the sixth.

The Phillies tied it in the eighth, but AGAIN it was the run that did not score that stands out. Jayson Werth on second, nobody out, Rollins was not asked to bunt. He popped out to third so the runner did not advance. Then Francisco, who had gotten one at-bat the whole postseason before getting the start Wednesday, faced San Francisco reliever Sergio Romo and he struck out on three pitches. Ruiz then struck out too, ending the threat.

And that takes us to the bottom of the ninth, tie score, when Philadelphia's Game 2 starter Roy Oswalt was sent into the game. He apparently had asked into the game. He was not sharp. He gave up a line drive out to Freddy Sanchez. He then gave up a ground ball single to Huff, a hard hit single to Posey (Huff moving to third) and then Juan Uribe, who had been hurt, came to the plate and lifted a long-enough fly ball to left, the game-winner. There was a huge celebration on the field. There was a thud in Philadelphia.

There was a lot of other stuff in the game too ... this really was one of those tangled games that either team could have won. And in those tangled games that either team can win, well, those are the games where people second guess. Which is why Manuel sat behind the microphone and tried to explain why he did what he did.

-- Oswalt? Really? Why would Manuel go with Oswalt there ESPECIALLY when Oswalt had already thrown his side session earlier in the day? He had Kendrick available to pitch or, if he wanted a shutdown inning, his closer Brad Lidge was available.

"[Oswalt] said he wanted to be in there," Charlie said. "He said he'd be glad to go. ... [Phillies pitching coach Rich] Dubee told me Oswalt could go. And I said that's fine. That's good."*

*I'm sorry, this is not the right time, I know ... but when I heard Manuel do that "I said that's fine. That's good," line, I could not help but think of that scene in Forrest Gump when Lieutenant Dan invested Forrest's money in Apple stock and told him he wouldn't have to worry about money anymore. Forrest Gump's line: "And I said, 'That's good. One less thing.'"

-- Why not pitch Halladay on three-days rest? Charlie's been asked the question a lot of times ...

"I think I've answered that, haven't I?" Charlie said. "We pitched Blanton. And actually we had a chance to win the game. We didn't win the game. Blanton had a lead when he left."

-- Why not bunt Rollins in the eighth inning with a man on second and nobody out? The Phillies really needed to get that runner to third, they needed to grab the lead ...

Charlie's response: "Rollins usually pulls the ball [which would have moved the runner over]. If he hits the ball to the right side of the diamond, that's one of his strong points. He's got a short quick swing from the left side."*

*I should point out here that our own Tom Verducci -- and he may write this, but just in case he doesn't -- said just before Rollins hit an infield pop-up that Rollins WOULD hit an infield pop-up. It was a good call ... and not entirely unexpected. According to Fangraphs, Rollins' postseason infield fly percentage before this game was a staggering 22.2%.

-- Why let Francisco hit there in the eighth with a man on second and one out? All year, Charlie has gone with Ibañez, and all series Charlie has talked about how he still has the ultimate faith in Ibañez. Why go there with a backup player who has struggled against righties?

"If I pinch-hit for Francisco there," Manuel said. "And they bring in the lefty -- which he's going to do -- if I don't want Ibañez hitting off a lefty, I can send [Mike] Sweeney up and all of a sudden I don't have a left fielder. I don't have a left fielder left. ... But at the same time, I kind of liked [Francisco] hitting on Romo."*

*A couple of things. One -- Francisco had no chance against Romo. None. He was thoroughly overmatched, which was pretty easy to anticipate. Two -- there actually was another option for Manuel beside Ibañez.. He could have sent left-handed Ross Gload up to the plate. Gload isn't bad against righties, certainly better than Francisco, and he's used to pinch-hitting in big situations. And if San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy brings in the lefty -- Jeremy Affeldt -- THEN Manuel could counter with Sweeney. If Manuel did it that way, he would still would have had Ibañez available to play left field, where he has played all year. True, he would have had to burn a player. But as it turned out, Sweeney didn't get into the game anyway.

These were the Charlie Manuel explanations. They are not likely to satisfy anyone back in Philadelphia ... but they really couldn't satisfy anyone. Game managing is about making choices, and in baseball, like choices in stockbroking and choices in love, they will often be wrong. This is the reality of being a big league manager. The larger point is that the Giants somehow keep on winning. The larger point is that the Phillies lost again. After winning back-to-back pennants, after being heavily favored to win this series, they are on the edge. The series isn't over, of course. The Phillies DO have have the great Roy Halladay going Thursday evening, and if the Phillies win they have the awfully good (despite Wednesday's shakiness) Roy Oswalt going Saturday, and if the Phillies win again they have the awfully good Cole Hamels starting Sunday with Halladay probably available for emergency duty. They do have their best on full rest.

But so do the Giants. And one more Giants win ends this thing for Philadelphia. There are no answers good enough to change that. And Manuel knows it. He's been in this game for a long time.