Questioning Charlie After a Late Night Loss

Charlie Manuel Home Opener Lunch Break
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The Phillies series finale against the San Francisco Giants -- an 11 inning, 1-0 loss that followed a brilliant pitching performance by Cliff Lee and a staggeringly futile effort from the offense -- still stung the morning after. 

This game could be viewed in a vacuum -- another loss of an inevitable 60 or so during the long baseball season.

But the stark truth is that this game can't be viewed in a vacuum and rated on its own merits, as it's but a small piece in a large puzzle that makes up the entire season. And through 12 games, the puzzle is looking like a mess, as the Phillies have moved into last place in the division for the first time since 2007.

There are a few things we can take from that loss, which is going to go down in the books as one of the more frustrating ones over the course of the season.
First, it's that Cliff Lee is really, really, really good. But everyone already knew that. Still, watching the Ace hurl 102 pitches -- 102! -- over 10 innings was nothing short of amazing. He becomes one of four pitchers in the last decade to do so, and if he would have had his way, he would have gone 11. Or 12. Or 17.

He stifled the Giants' offense, and scattered seven hits while striking out seven. In fairness, he was matched by his counterpart Matt Cain, who himself threw a shutout, but over nine innings.

The real shame, though, is watching Lee's brilliant start go to waste. Like so many other pitchers, he was the victim of a poor offensive outing. He won't get credited with the loss, but despite tossing 10 shutout innings, he won't get the win, either.

Second, the Giants are annoying. Just really annoying. Maybe it's revisionist history, but it seems like the Phillies can never win in San Francisco, and it's not because they get out-slugged. It's because they have this crazy ability to get their weakly hit balls to fall in for base hits, and light-hitting infielders suddenly can't make outs, while Melky Cabrera is made to look like Miguel Cabrera.

But the biggest thing about Wednesday night wasn't that the Phillies lost, because sometimes tough losses happen, and when you are facing Cain, runs are going to come at a premium. And in most circumstances, you chalk it up to just getting beat. But, the thing about Wednesday night wasn't that they got outplayed, it's that they got out-managed by their own manager.

I've often railed against Charlie Manuel, and for good reason. I like the guy, and the players seem to like him, but he's been the benefactor of a talented team. He's never been a great Field General but no one really noticed because the Phillies were always so good on the field. And now that he has been dealt the worst offense since he's managed the team, his mistakes are much more evident because the margin of error is so much smaller.

Both Crashburn Alley and Brotherly Glove (a pair of tremendous blogs) wrote about this following the madness that was Wednesday night's game, but the overwhelming sentiment is that Charlie royally goofed in the 11th inning, when he sent Jim Thome to the plate to face a righty that quickly was turned into the brutally tough lefty Javier Lopez with a runner on third and one out. Predictably, the lefty-hitting Thome struck out, and Manuel followed that up by pulling Juan Pierre for John Mayberry, Jr. despite the fact that Pierre against Lopez was a much, much, much better matchup than Mayberry vs. Clay Hensley, who got the struggling Mayberry to ground out to end the inning.

To be fair to Charlie, it's not like he has a ton of players to turn to for a hit, as he was limited to Thome, Mayberry, Pete Orr, Brian Schneider and Placido Polanco. A murderer's row of hitters, they are not. It's not as if he had a clear-cut choice in that situation given what he has to work with. It's like choosing between a bad player, a bad player, and a worse player.

However, with a tough lefty on the hill who feasts on opposing left-handed hitters with a series of sliders, the logic follows that either Polanco or Mayberry would have been the best bet in that situation, as they benefited greatly from not being left-handed.

Of course, we are only having this conversation because Thome failed. Hindsight is 20/20, and had Thome dropped one in between the outfielders, Charlie would be hailed as a genius for swimming against the current of the percentages. And, let's be honest, had he gone with Polanco, the odds of him doing anything remotely positive remained low, given his struggles lately. We call that a Catch-22.

As it stands, Thome struck out, Mayberry grounded out, and a Ty Wiggington defensive miscue in the bottom half of the inning led to the Giants walking it off one batter later against Antonio Bastardo. In turn, a lot of fans went to bed angry, and woke up wondering if this was just one of those losses, or if the 2012 Phillies season is doomed from the start.

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