Commentary

Manuel's trek to the mound backfires in a big way

Originally Published: October 4, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Grady Little had his Pedro Moment. John McNamara had his Bill Buckner Moment. Danny Ozark had his Greg Luzinski Moment.

And Thursday afternoon in shell-shocked Philadelphia, Charlie Manuel had his Kyle Lohse Moment.

Or was it his Kyle Kendrick Moment?

Kyle Kendrick
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesKyle Kendrick started and pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing five runs, and was tagged with the loss in Game 2.
Well, whatever kind of moment it was, it turned out to be one of those October moments that went all wrong, for a manager and his baseball team -- and for the always-supportive people of Philadelphia who will never, ever let him forget it.

Charlie Manuel isn't the first manager in postseason history to gong his starting pitcher in the fourth inning. He isn't the first manager to wave for a reliever who found himself muttering later about that "one bad pitch" he tossed up there.

But he was the first manager in the history of his franchise to yank his starting pitcher in the fourth inning of a postseason game even though he had the lead.

And when a manager puts himself that far out there on a limb that precarious, here are the rules of October:

He'd better be right.

So there is only one way Charlie Manuel is going to be allowed to forget the stunning exit of Kyle Kendrick, the game-turning grand slam allowed by Kyle Lohse about 12 seconds later or the 10-5 boofest of a loss that has buried the Phillies in an 0-2 hole to the rampaging Rockies in the National League Division Series.

His team had better rip off three straight wins -- against a juggernaut that has lost three times in the last three weeks. Or 20 years from now, the manager shouldn't be shocked if some total stranger approaches him in a restaurant and asks: "Why the heck did you take Kendrick out?"

"I made the decision," the Phillies' beleaguered manager said Thursday night, during a postgame inquisition in the interview room in which eight different questions centered on the most pivotal decision of his oft-second-guessed managerial administration. "And I'm the guy who made it."

He explained it. He defended it. He rationalized it. He made a point of saying, "I don't think it was a mistake."

But this was a decision with ramifications that will be hanging in the South Philadelphia air for a whole lot longer than Kaz Matsui's dramatic grand slam.

• Ramification Numero Uno: The Phillies are now in deep doodoo in this series. Of the 21 teams in history that have lost the first two games at home in any best-of-five series in history, just one -- the 2001 Yankees -- came back to win.

• Ramification No. 2: Sporting love affairs in Philadelphia are always a threat to last less time than a Britney Spears marriage. And the boos that rattled Citizens Bank Park, as this game and series unraveled, didn't sound like the lyrics of "Endless Love." Philadelphia is a town fixated on its next parade. So one ugly romp through October is a threat to undo about 99 percent of the affection this team generated when it roared back in September and mugged the Mets.

• Ramification No. 3: In case you missed this, Manuel's contract expires when this season does. Over the last two weeks, there have been enough front-office testimonials for his April-to-September motivational powers that there no longer seemed to be much doubt he'd get an extension. But now? Uh-oh. That issue just might be open for cross-examination again.

The events of Thursday might well be enough to re-launch the never-ending debate among his bosses about whether they can live with their discontent with the way Manuel runs a game. And there are hundreds of thousands of talk-show callers who have already cast their votes.

So when Manuel popped out of that dugout in the fourth inning Thursday and waved toward his bullpen, this was not just another pitching change.

This was Armageddon.

This was a decision to hook a pitcher (Kendrick) who had led all National League rookies in wins (with 10). This was a decision to hook a pitcher who, in many ways, had dropped out of the Double-A mist and saved his team's entire season.

And maybe more significantly, this was a decision to replace him with a pitcher (Lohse) who is primarily a starter -- and who was marching into a situation he'd almost never faced in a seven-year career.

It's the playoffs. You want to try to stop the big inning before it starts. I didn't see every pitch Kyle [Kendrick] threw because I was in the bullpen. I thought he was doing all right. But that was the plan, for me to be down there and be the long guy and go a couple of innings. It just didn't work out.

--Phillies pitcher Kyle Lohse

This was the 224th time Lohse had appeared on a mound in a major-league game, if you count the postseason. But just once in all those times -- on July 21, 2006 -- had he been brought out of anybody's bullpen with the bases loaded. (The result that time: a Jason Michaels sacrifice fly.)

But Manuel said he liked the matchup with Matsui, liked Lohse's "experience," liked the fact that Lohse had been "pitching real good out of the bullpen" in two previous emergency appearances down the stretch -- even though he'd come in to start innings in both of those other outings.

Also in Manuel's defense: Left-handed hitters batted .321 against Kendrick this year and slugged .549 against him. And it was clearly too early to bring in the Phillies' only left-handed reliever, J.C. Romero.

So maybe Lohse was the best option if this had clearly been the time and place. The question is: Was it too early to bring in anyone, considering the Phillies had a 3-2 lead with two outs in the fourth?

There's nothing wrong with managing aggressively in games like this. But Manuel seemed to be managing to get Lohse in the game, almost from the beginning.

He had also gotten Lohse up in the second inning, and popped him right back up when trouble arose in the fourth. The plan, the manager said, was that "when I put him in, he was going to go to the sixth inning."

A funny thing happened, though, on the road through the next 2 1/3 innings: Lohse forgot to get the next out.

He did get ahead in the count, 1 and 2. So in his mind, he "had the guy set up." The idea was to bore a fastball in on Matsui above the hands. But that's not the pitch Lohse threw.

Instead, he left a fastball low and in, "right there in his hot zone," Lohse muttered. "It needed to be up. About two feet up would have been great."

Matsui had never hit a regular-season grand slam since arriving in the U.S. of A., in 25 career bases-loaded plate appearances. But one 370-foot rocket later, he now owns more postseason slams (one) than Babe Ruth (zero).

And the decision that led to that grand slam is still flying.

In the Phillies' clubhouse, after a staggering loss, it was a subject that wouldn't die.

Asked to describe his reaction when he saw Manuel heading for the mound, Kendrick replied: "I'm just out there to pitch when I'm called on to pitch. And that's his call. And that was that."

When Lohse was asked if he was surprised, he almost sounded like a guy who knew this was coming.

"It's the playoffs," said Lohse, who became the 13th pitcher in history to serve up a postseason grand slam to the first hitter he faced. "You want to try to stop the big inning before it starts. I didn't see every pitch Kyle threw because I was in the bullpen. I thought he was doing all right. But that was the plan, for me to be down there and be the long guy and go a couple of innings. It just didn't work out."

But if the other occupants of that clubhouse had a dissenting view, they were trying their best not to feed it to the media wolves.

Jose Mesa
AP Photo/Rusty KennedyReliever Jose Mesa was completely ineffective as he allowed three runs while recording just one out.
"It doesn't matter what I think," said Jimmy Rollins, whose four-RBI day out of the leadoff hole was buried in the rubble. "The manager made a decision. And we all live with it."

Oh, they'll live with it, all right. They had to stuff that 0-2 deficit in their carry-on bag and lug it all the way to Denver. And now they have to find a way to win two in a row at Coors Field, where the Rockies are a scorching 39-15 since June 2.

And even if they do win two in a row -- against a team that's 16-1 since Sept. 15 -- all that would earn them is a shot to try to win a third game in a row, back in Philadelphia next Tuesday.

"If we go out there and say we've gotta win them all, we're not going to win," said closer Brett Myers. "But if we sit there and say, 'What have we got to lose?' then we've got a chance. Then it's fun. We've got this chance. Let's make the most of it, because a lot of us in this room might never get a shot to do this again.

"Todd Helton waited 10 years to get here. You think he doesn't know he's got to make the most of this? Well, that's what we've got to do. We don't want to be sitting around in 2017 saying, 'Remember 10 years ago, when we got in the playoffs and didn't win?' Nobody wants to do that. So let's go out and have some fun, because right now, this ain't fun."

And if they don't go out there and have some fun? Then look out.

Then their manager could find himself in the same boat as his buddy, Grady Little -- no longer defined by his 262-224 record as the manager of this team, but instead by one trip to the pitcher's mound in October that turned out exactly the opposite of the way he dreamed it up.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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