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Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Manuel really thinking things through

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
ESPN The Magazine

Charlie Manuel
Charlie Manuel's moves have the Phillies in position for a shot at back-to-back World Series titles.

NEW YORK -- It's easy to dismiss Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel as a bumpkin, a soft-drawling, slow-walking, bobbleheaded manager who was lucky enough to inherit a team with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

Yet, an argument can be made that Manuel's decision-making in the National League Championship Series did as much to carry the Phillies into the World Series as Howard's 1.457 OPS.

Manuel's decision-making will be scrutinized even more during the World Series -- but that may be a good thing considering how admirable a job he has done so far. Here are Manuel's top five decisions in the NLCS that will dictate his approach for the World Series:

DECISION NO. 1

Manuel uses Chan Ho Park in the seventh inning of Game 1 with the Phillies leading 5-4. Park retires all three Dodgers he faces.

Why the decision was important: In the second half of the season, Park had become the Phillies' most reliable reliever. After a botched attempt to be the team's fifth starter, Park posted an impressive 1.85 ERA in the second half of the season.

Chan Ho Park
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has fallen in love with using Chan Ho Park in the seventh inning this postseason.

Yet, Park had been sidelined for more than a month with a strained right hamstring and had not been on Philadelphia's roster for the Division Series against Colorado.

Park had also not been the team's dedicated seventh-inning guy. Chad Durbin pitched in the seventh inning in 30 of his 59 appearances during the year. Park pitched in the seventh 22 times. But in Game 1, Park bridged the gap to Brad Lidge as the Phillies took a 1-0 series lead. Park also proved crucial with a scoreless seventh in Philadelphia's 5-4 comeback win in Game 4.

What this decision means for the World Series: Without a doubt, Park will be Manuel's go-to guy in the seventh inning.

What Manuel said about this decision: "Park was real good, first of all. He was throwing the heck out of the ball, and he hadn't pitched in a long time."

DECISION NO. 2

Manuel elects to start Pedro Martinez in Game 2 of the NLCS.

Why this decision was important: Martinez had pitched a combined seven innings from Sept. 14 to Oct. 16, the day of his start in Game 2. The easy decision would have been to start J.A. Happ, who had been Philadelphia's most consistent starter after Cliff Lee. Instead, Manuel gambled on the experienced Martinez, who has started 12 games in the postseason over Happ, who had started once in the playoffs, a three-inning outing last year against the Dodgers in which he allowed three runs.

Martinez was masterful in Game 2 against Los Angeles, pitching seven scoreless innings in a no-decision.

What this means for the World Series: Martinez will be Philadelphia's Game 2 starter and would also likely start Game 6, if necessary, with both games at Yankee Stadium.

What Charlie said about the decision: "Pedro, we feel like the other day when we was watching him in a simulated game, he was throwing the ball very good. As a matter of fact, he was throwing pretty hard, and his command was good, and he's had enough rest and his experience and everything. I think the biggest part about his pitching will be his command. I feel like he's always pretty sharp with his command and control. I feel like this is a good -- this is where he started [his career], [Dodger Stadium] is a good ballpark for him. He likes a moment, and actually I liked him in this game better than I did in the fourth -- third or fourth game."

DECISION NO. 3

Manuel uses Happ -- not as a long man -- but in short stints in Games 1, 2 and 5.

Happ
Happ

Why this decision was important: Once Park failed as a starter, Happ was inserted into the rotation in mid-May and flourished. As a starter, Happ was 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA. He had not pitched in relief since May 12, yet Manuel decided to use Happ as a situational reliever in the NLCS.

Happ pitched in three games in the NLCS, but for a combined two-thirds of an inning. He did not allow a run.

What this means for the World Series: Happ will be counted upon in the mid-to-late innings to retire left-handed hitters, such as Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui. Happ may also be called upon to face switch-hitters Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada, who are less potent against lefties. It can be argued that Happ may be Philadelphia's most important reliever during the World Series, because he is likely to pitch in tough spots in the middle innings.

What Charlie said about the decision: "With the pitching, I definitely like to stay close to [pitching coach Rich] Dubee, and I talk to him a lot during the game, and I think he plays a big part in the moves that we make. He makes suggestions and I make a decision. But at the same time, I think it's very important that we have -- that we try to put ourselves in a good position of course to win the game and finish the game in a manner that we want that certain guy against their certain hitters."

DECISION NO. 4

Manuel opts to stick with closer Brad Lidge … in the right spots.

Why this decision was important: Much has been written about Lidge's struggles this season. Yes, Lidge had a 7.21 ERA this year with 11 blown saves, but Manuel still considers him one of his most talented relievers, which is why he kept Lidge as the team's closer -- though not unconditionally.

In Game 1, Lidge pitched the ninth inning, while both Joe Blanton and Scott Eyre warmed up in the bullpen. In Game 4, Eyre started the ninth and faced Orlando Hudson and Rafael Furcal before Manuel brought in Lidge.

What this means for the World Series: Lidge is still the team's closer, but Manuel won't likely be afraid to use any of his other relievers in the ninth inning, particularly a left-hander to face the left-handed-heavy Yankees lineup.

What Charlie said about the decision: "I committed a long time ago to Brad Lidge. He's our closer. And believe me, at the same time, how we use him might dictate who they've got hitting and stuff. But at the same time, when we get really back in the back of the bullpen to close the game, he's always somewhere in our minds, and we're going to use him in some capacity.

DECISION NO. 5

Manuel opts to keep the same lineup intact for the entire NLCS and does not take the slumping Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot.

Why this decision was important: Without question, Rollins is the team's primary leadoff hitter, but he had slumped through the first three games of the NLCS and had just a .579 OPS in the NLDS. It would not be unheard of for Manuel to shift Rollins out of the leadoff spot during a slump, as Manuel did it 11 times during the regular season.

Instead, Manuel kept his NLCS lineup intact for every game, and did not even shift his lineup when facing Dodgers lefties Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf. Manuel was rewarded when Rollins hit a game-winning double against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in Game 4.

What this means for the World Series: Expect to see a lineup of Rollins at the leadoff spot, followed by Shane Victorino, Utley, Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz for all three games in Philadelphia. Philadelphia's lineup in New York will differ with the DH.

WHAT MANUEL SAID ABOUT THE DECISION: "First of all, [Rollins] ain't slumping. How many games, we're 3-1? Four games ain't a slump … Actually, from what I've seen, they're pitching him pretty tough. At times, he really works the count pretty good. He takes pitches. But the Dodgers have been getting ahead of him, and they've been throwing a lot of slow stuff. The other day I felt like [Vicente] Padilla was aggressive with him, and he moved the ball in and out on him, and he made some real good pitches on Jimmy. I mean they've been pitching Jimmy pretty tough. He'll be all right."

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.