SAN FRANCISCO -- A World Series-winning manager earns a certain leniency, a longer leash, when it comes to decision making. But Charlie Manuel's benefit of the doubt ended after the Philadelphia Phillies' 6-5 loss against the San Francisco Giants in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. When Manuel exited the postgame conference room, after he had been peppered with questions regarding his in-game strategy, he put his head down and walked toward the clubhouse with a media relations staffer.
With each measured step -- and they are all measured steps for Manuel these days, as age and the grind of a long baseball career have taken their toll -- the Philadelphia manager muttered under his breath about the line of questioning concerning his decisions. Shuffle step. Mutter about starting Joe Blanton. Shuffle step. Mutter about not pinch-hitting with Raul Ibanez. Shuffle step. Mutter about using Roy Oswalt.
"If we like to play with our backs against the wall, it's there now," Manuel said. "I think we're standing there right now. … I think we're going to get our chance."
Through the first four games of the NLCS, Manuel, has not so much been out-managed, as he's allowed Giants manager Bruce Bochy to dictate almost every important decision. In Game 1 after Bochy used lefty reliever Javier Lopez against the left-handed combo of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Manuel changed his lineup by splitting the lefties with Placido Polanco. Never mind that everyone knew that Bochy planned to use Lopez this way.
A sequence on Wednesday could act as a microcosm of the entire series. In the eighth, Howard led off the inning with a double and then scored on Jayson Werth's double, which tied the game at 5. Jimmy Rollins' popup brought up Ben Francisco, who had singled once in three previous at-bats, with Werth still at second.
For the most important at-bat of the season to that point, Manuel chose to stick with a player (Francisco) who entered the game with just one plate appearance in the entire playoffs.
"If I pinch-hit for Francisco there and they bring in the lefty, which he's going to do," Manuel said, "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. He had two good at-bats and I kind of liked him hitting [against Giants right-hander Sergio] Romo. We know what he's going to do: throw sliders. I kind of liked him hitting there. Plus he had a couple of good at-bats during the game."
As Manuel indicated, he knew that Francisco would face a heavy dose of sliders. Yet FanGraphs.com's pitch type value rankings indicate that Francisco was only a marginal hitter against sliders this season and a below-average slider hitter for his entire career.
Manuel was right in that Bochy likely would have brought in the lefty, Jeremy Affeldt, had Manuel used either Sweeney or Raul Ibanez.
Bochy has been extremely reluctant to use Affeldt during the playoffs (he's pitched just one inning), yet Manuel allowed the entire sequence to be affected by the possibility of Affeldt pitching. This year, left-handed batters had a gaudy .837 OPS against Affeldt, almost 100 points higher than what right-handed batters hit against him.
Manuel's explanation that he would have been left without a left fielder seems to indicate that under no circumstance did he plan to use the slumping Ibanez (3-for-23 in the postseason) against a left-handed pitcher. Manuel implied that he would have used Sweeney to hit and then used Ibanez for defense, leaving him with no other outfield options on the bench.
But Manuel simply could have used Ibanez. Only once in the seven times when Affeldt and Ibanez faced each other -- the first time in 2004 -- did an at-bat end with Ibanez behind in the count, and not once did an at-bat end in a strikeout. So far Affeldt has been unable to fool Ibanez (2-for-6, including a triple against him during the regular season).
Manuel had the opportunity to have an active player this postseason (Ibanez) face the little-used reliever (Affeldt). Instead, he opted for the opposite scenario.
At this point, the Phillies should have wanted to get Affeldt into the game simply because the Giants would prefer not to use him. Instead, Manuel allowed Bochy to keep one of his most consistent relievers in the game, while his most erratic reliever remained in the bullpen.
Sure enough, Francisco struck out against Romo on three consecutive sliders.
And there were other questionable decisions:
" In the fifth, with Andres Torres at second base, Manuel had lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo warming up in the bullpen, but decided to allow starter Joe Blanton to face the left-handed Huff, who hit a run-scoring single.
" Of course the decision to use Oswalt will be heavily scrutinized. From a certain point of view, it's not unreasonable to use Oswalt in that situation. Wednesday was his throwing day, which meant he was scheduled to loosen up his arm anyway. But what made the decision so dubious was that Oswalt already had thrown a 20-minute bullpen session earlier Wednesday, after which he had iced his arm.
" Oswalt said he pitched under the same scenario in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS against St. Louis when he allowed a run in two innings. Obviously, it's not an optimal situation.
"If you need another guy in the bullpen, I'll go down if we go extra innings," Oswalt told pitching coach Rich Dubee in the eighth inning. "You need a guy to eat an inning up, I can throw. I threw a bullpen today, but it's the playoffs. Gotta play."
Manuel said he never spoke to Oswalt.
If there's anything that can save Manuel and the Phillies now, it's that for the next three games there is a possibility that he won't have to make many decisions at all. The trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels is almost decision proof. If each pitcher does as expected, then Manuel's only decision would be to allow the starter to go deep into the game or go with closer Brad Lidge.
"This is when he's at his best, when the whole thing is on the line," Rollins said of Game 5 starter Halladay. "I am expecting Roy to go out there and be great, and I bet he's expecting to go out there and be great. Usually, when he expects to go out there and be great, he executes."
And if he executes, Manuel won't have to worry about a thing.
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.