This morning I watched an episode of the Charlie Manuel Show that I’d previously recorded. On that particular day, Charlie was cooking—linguine salad, to be exact—and the rule of the day was “no talking baseball.”
But watching the Skipper cook made one thing utterly obvious: Charlie cooks like he coaches.
Slow, methodical, intentional, and intuitive.
He eyes up amounts like an executive chef and follows his nose like he follows a hunch. Without a word of the game spoken, Charlie made it clear why 2008 was the year.
Charlie knows what he likes.
He knows players like he knows food. If he’s as predictable in the clubhouse as he is in the kitchen, it’s no wonder players like him. They don’t have to concern themselves with a guy who’s indecisive, or even wonder what’s for dinner.
Did you know Charlie has lost thirty pounds? No wonder Brett Myers and Ryan Howard lost weight in the offseason. It’s embarrassing to be shown up by an old man.
I know how they feel. That’s why I feign an injury whenever my dad suggests a foot race. He’s finished six marathons. The only one I’ve completed is a Harry Potter five-movie binge on a cold offseason Saturday.
But in yesterday’s series finale, the Coors Light cold-activated can didn’t turn blue.
The sun was hot, the balls were floating, and the bats were boiling.
It was obvious Charlie fed Joe Blanton well, as he contributed four strong innings of expert first-ball strikes to prove he pitches like he eats—seldom missing a meal and rarely missing his mark.
Then in the fifth, he gave up five runs.
My husband nipped from a fifth and closed his eyes to take five.
But it wasn’t over. The bullpen came through again with scoreless innings—four of them. Clay Condrey was the pen’s first course—a dish that could have used a little zest.
Then Scott Eyre was followed by Chan Ho Park. Yes, Park. He may not like it, but the bullpen is where he’ll make his mark. Last but not least, Sergio Escalona made it obvious that he’d rather play in a major key than a minor.
The Phillies offense supported its pitchers with enough runs to make the mistakes of the fifth look as insignificant as me in a string bikini. Charlie loaded the lineup with lefties while facing right-hander Micah Owings. That poor guy started a streak of collecting runs in the first that was a tradition continued through the eighth.
Jimmy Rollins earned the leadoff spot for life, going 4-for-6. He was hitting, scoring, sliding, stealing, and smiling his way to his 300th lifetime steal.
He’s only the third Phillie to reach the 300-steals-and-doubles mark. That must have felt a whole lot better than his earlier struggles at the plate. To fix that problem, he changed his batting stance from what has worked for him all these years. I think Charlie would agree—sometimes you need to try a new recipe.
Jimmy’s affront was joined by Chase Utley, who missed batting for the cycle by only a triple. He was 3-for-5 with four RBI and a sac fly. Then Raul “The Amazing" Ibanez turned up the heat to contribute a double and a dinger in a game where the Phillies' first four batters were 10-for-13 with six runs, three homers, and nine RBI.
Matt Stairs must have eaten way too much, as he only managed a slow pace to base, walking twice. He started for the struggling Jayson Werth, who stepped to the plate in the seventh and eighth but only extended his no-hitting streak to 10.
I’d give him 10 to streak.
But the flyin' Hawaiian hacked away for a single, a double, and a stolen base, and chased down balls like a fielding ace.
Then the bottom of the lineup kept the fire burning. Greg Dobbs hit his first homer of the season while Carlos Ruiz got his slow series started with a double. And Pedro Feliz gave us a two-RBI, pinch-hit double in the seventh, proving why he’s the Phils' best hitter with runners in scoring position for 2009. He makes it look Feli-Z.
The soup on J.C. Romero is warming up.
We had a J.C. once. He was a two-week old kitten that we found in a barn in New Jersey, hence the name - Jersey Cat. He was a wild one. He used to stalk my son like a Navy Seal and draw blood like the Red Cross. He was sweet, yet dastardly, but fun to watch when he wasn’t picking on you.
The Phillies’ J.C. is thirteen days away from officially sitting in the bullpen. Last year he led the Phils in most holds with a pesky 24, which was also third best in the NL. In his Wednesday-night minor league appearance, he hit a guy with a pitch just so he could pick him off of first. He’s sweet, yet dastardly, but fun to watch when he’s not pitching to you.
In other news, the Phillies' old friend Adam got Eaton up by New York. Like my 10-year-old in a cooking class, Adam was experimenting with mess-making. The Bronx Bombers were cooking and Adam got fried in the 7-3 Yankees victory. The Phillie alum’s days in the kitchen may be limited, but the Yanks increased their winning streak to nine in anticipation of a three-game series with you-know-who.
Brett Myers will start it off. He’ll pitch against an NYY pitcher who also hasn’t had a banner season. But on Saturday my heart starts palpating. That’s when my other kitten, JA Happ-y, will stand up against those high-dollar hitters in his first 2009 start. He’s opposing fellow leftie Andy Pettitte who, although he’s 4-1, hasn’t pleased many palates.
Then on Sunday it’s ace against ace—Cole Hamels vs. CC Sabathia. Leftie vs. leftie. Man vs. man in the ultimate grudge match. CC hasn’t faced the Phillies since they cooked his goose in the NLDS with five runs off six hits in less than four innings. I was there. I saw his pain. And I cheered when they pulled his plug.
But you know what they say.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Charlie will tell you the same.