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Manuel's grand mistake triggers Phillies' doom

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

PHILADELPHIA – Here's what happens when you start two pitchers with 28 big-league games between them, extend summer a few days, send in a bunch of hitters and put it all in the most ridiculously offense-leaning ballpark ever:

The game finds Charlie Manuel.

The game also happened to find the burgeoning momentum and bat barrels of the Colorado Rockies, along with the suspect bullpen of Manuel's Philadelphia Phillies, who lost Game 2 of the National League division series 10-5 on Thursday.

But, mostly, it found Charlie Manuel himself.

It was a tense, defensive Phillies manager who trudged into the postgame news conference, dragging pitcher Kyle Kendrick along, almost as though he'd be made to live with this for a while.

Appointed to make these kinds of calls, and suitably lauded for having the Phillies here to begin with, Manuel hours before had hoisted himself up the dugout steps and across foul territory to follow through on a decision everyone in the ballpark knew was the wrong one.

They booed his back when he marched up to Kendrick, the 23-year-old rookie they'd all agreed was the right man for Game 2, then booed him good when he left the ball in Kyle Lohse's hand. And, well, by the time Kaz Matsui had short-armed Lohse's fourth pitch into the right-field bleachers, there really wasn't much left to say.

Not that the largest crowd ever at Citizens Bank Park didn't say it, but, by then, it was all so much redundancy.

Manuel walked straight into the grand slam that, barring the Phillies becoming the eighth team ever to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series, effectively ended their season.

Matsui might just as easily popped up that fastball, left the Rockies in a tight game, and left manager Clint Hurdle with the burden of reaching for lightning bolts for five innings, as Manuel was. Hurdle had just as quickly bailed out on his rookie starter, Franklin Morales, after all, and given the game over to a starter by trade.

But, Hurdle has a decent bullpen. And he gave his first reliever – Josh Fogg, as it turned out &ndash a fresh inning in which to start.

Manuel, conversely, had the bases loaded, a 3-2 lead, two out and a pitcher already on the mound – Kendrick – who'd earned a reputation for getting out of these messes, from June (when he arrived so fortuitously from Double-A) to September.

So, a few minutes after Hurdle had deftly swapped out his starter for a pinch-hitter, and after that pinch-hitter (Seth Smith) reached first base and loaded the bases on the cheapest of infield hits, Manuel made his move. Lohse replaced Kendrick.

And in the ballpark that had roared when its Phillies had answered back-to-back home runs by Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday in the first inning with Jimmy Rollins' homer in the first and two-run triple in the second, dread replaced hope.

When Matsui was done, the Rockies lead was 6-3. Two innings later, they led 10-3. Maybe this was simply Matsui's day – he had two other extra-base hits and one other RBI – and it simply came on Manuel's watch. It appeared that Manuel helped make it his day.

"I don't think it was a mistake," Manuel said. "I did it … I looked at it as basically what it was. I liked Lohse against …"

It was here that Manuel momentarily forgot Matsui's name. Good for him.

" … Matsui," he rallied. "I liked him going against Matsui and one of the reasons I liked him is because of his stuff, breaking ball, change-up and fastball … I made the decision and I was the guy that made it."

Kendrick, who'd looked somewhere between confused and very confused when Manuel appeared at the mound in the fourth inning, had since come to the realization there was nothing to gain by pressing the issue.

"You know, it's his call," he said. "I felt OK. But, you know, I'm just out there to pitch when I'm called on to pitch and that's his call and that was that."

He did say he had plenty left. He'd thrown 66 pitches. After the consecutive-pitch homers in the first, Kendrick had given up one other hit before Garret Atkins doubled to start the fourth. He'd learned about these moments at the knee of veteran Jamie Moyer, impressing the Phillies with grit and deftness, finding ways to pitch with OK stuff, not great stuff.

"You know, I was pretty confident," he said. "You know, I just basically threw two outs, one pitch and I'm out of it. I felt pretty good."

By then, clearly, Kendrick could see which way the room was leaning.

For so much of the season, Manuel had good reason to doubt large portions of his pitching staff. But, if he was so eager to get to Lohse, perhaps the Phillies should have started Lohse earlier in the series.

As it turns out, he might already have made his only impact.

"Just made a bad pitch," he said quietly.

In the Phillies clubhouse, the gravity of the moment was worn in expressions of regret. They'll have to win three in a row against a team that has won 16 of 17 games. They are being outpitched, outhit, outmaneuvered, and then they were being bused to the airport for the trip to Denver.

"Just win, that's the bottom line," closer Brett Myers said. "Can't sit back and wait on anybody to help us now."

No, seems those days are nearly over.

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