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Phillies thrive on the wisdom of Charlie Manuel

"You've got to be totally relaxed, you've got to stay focused and it gets back to the [idea of] excellence over success," Manuel says. (Rob Carr/associated Press)
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By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, October 22, 2009

PHILADELPHIA

We don't have Casey Stengel anymore, who used double-talk to make perfect sense, but at least we've still got Charlie Manuel.

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We may not have many old-school ballclubs anymore that love the game to death, show up six hours early, leave late, slide high, love pressure and know the difference between mere success and true excellence. But Charlie's Phillies do, 'cause he makes sure.

Before his world champion Phils clinched the National League pennant with four homers, two by Jayson Werth, in a 10-4 Game 5 rout of the Dodgers on Wednesday night, Manuel was asked if his team was high-maintenance or low-maintenance. He answered in Stengelese, that baseball language in which apparent imbecility actually masks unique personal wisdom, gained through half a century of experience in the game.

"We've got guys that like to pitch and we've got guys that like to play, and the guys that like to play, they stand out on the field. I don't have to tell you who they are because you'll see them."

Okay, laugh. But as reporters here now say to each other, "You have to really listen to Charlie."

Manuel knows what high-maintenance means, even if he pulls his West Virginia-raised act. His Phils are not only a low-maintenance team but also the incarnation of baseball from another era when the sport was more about honor and personal definition than money, more about mastering an incredibly difficult craft than making the 10-second TV highlights. Not that the Phils don't like money. But they aren't defined by it.

The guys who "like to play" -- which in Manuelese means that they have a passion for baseball, respect it, work hard and seldom choke under pressure -- are the ones Manuel puts in the lineup. The high-maintenance guys, he doesn't. So, you don't "see them out on the field." They don't deserve to be there. In fact, since Manuel arrived, they've been systematically weeded out.

Many have been amazed at the Phils' gift for clutch play in this postseason, including late heroics by Werth and Ryan Howard that were topped here Monday night when Jimmy Rollins, the 5-foot-8 shortstop who is the core of the clubhouse, turned around a 99-mph fastball from 290-pound Jonathan Broxton and became the fifth man in postseason history to turn a defeat into victory when he represented the last out of the game.

But Manuel isn't surprised at all by the Phillies' comeback knack and their ability to shake off blown saves all season by their dubious bullpen. He and others in the front office, like Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro, believe you can identify players who are at their best under pressure because they are both energized and focused by the spotlight, not paralyzed or distracted by it.

"There were individuals on our team [in Manuel's first two seasons], and I didn't call their names out in meetings, but we used to address the fact that we'd get tight and we would kind of panic and we couldn't play in the right moment," said Manuel.

"You've got to be totally relaxed, you've got to stay focused and it gets back to the [idea of] excellence over success," said Manuel. "If you strive to be the best, then success will be there."


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