Phillies Beat Rockies, And Why Charlie Manuel Is Baseball Genius

It's October. It's the playoffs. And ↵Brad Lidge is perfect again. ↵

↵Everyone knows the story of the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen. Heading into the playoffs, the question on everyone's mind was who will close out the one-and-two-run games that teams always seem to find themselves in during the playoffs. Was it going to be Lidge? Was it going to be Ryan Madson? Was it going to be closer by committee? ↵

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↵How about all of the above? Ryan Madson, in this four-game series that had his team win three games, recorded two blown saves. In Game Three, Madson got the hard-luck blown save by coming in and surrendering just one run on a sacrifice fly with men on the corners and no outs. The Phillies ended up scoring in the ninth before Brad Lidge – the only viable arm left in the pen – came in and closed out the Rockies in the ninth, culminating with Troy Tulowitzki popping out with two men on. ↵

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↵Raise your hand if you thought Game Four would end with the same matchup. Through seven innings, people in Philadelphia assumed Cliff Lee would toss another complete game. But when Dexter Fowler leaped over Chase Utley and was safe on an error after Utley tried for the force at second rather than the sure out at first – the toss was dropped by Jimmy Rollins – another complete game was not in the works for Lee. ↵

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↵How about Lee's postseason thus far for the Phillies? 1-0, 16.1 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K. Interesting that after another gem performance by Lee, it was the other guy the Phillies traded for in that deal, Ben Francisco, who made the defensive play of the game. Francisco came in with Ryan Madson in a well-timed double-switch and immediately made a diving catch on a Tulowitzki flare to left field that, at the time, was a game-saver. But the next pitch was a grooved fastball to pinch hitter Jason Giambi who hit a line drive to left, plating Fowler and tying the game. ↵

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↵Another blown save for Philadelphia. What else is new? ↵

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↵That wasn't all for Madson, or the Rockies' offense. Yorvit Torrealba doubled to the fence in right-center to plate two more runs for Colorado and give the Rox a two-run lead heading into the ninth. ↵

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↵Rocktober was in full force. ↵

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↵Huston Street, unlike the Phillies closers this season, was a rock for Colorado, saving 35-of-37 games. Street had already closed out the Phillies in Game Two and it looked like another blown save in the eighth or ninth inning for Philadelphia was going to do them in, this time forcing a Game Five. Yet after pinch hitter Greg Dobbs struck out, Rollins stepped in and grounded a 2-2 pitch back up the middle for an infield hit. Shane Victorino then grounded into a force out and the Phils were down to their last out. ↵

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↵Chase Utley worked a professional walk, patiently waiting for his pitch throughout the at bat before Ryan Howard proved yet again why he's one of the most feared hitters in the league. Howard crushed a 2-1 pitch to right field that somehow got over the head of Carlos Gonzalez to plate two runs and tie the game. With the game tied 4-4, Jayson Werth then drove a 2-2 pitch and to center, singling home Howard to give the Phillies an amazing come-from-behind lead. ↵

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↵The TBS cameras caught a glimpse of Charlie Manuel talking with pitching coach Rich Dubee before Howard's at bat and you could tell by the body language the conversation was matter of fact. If the game is tied, bring in Scott Eyre to face the lefties. If the Phils are winning, still bring in Eyre. Manuel didn't just go with Lidge – insert closer here – even though the embattled hurler finished out Game Three the night before. Manuel went with Eyre, the lefty specialist who in Game Three twisted his ankle and was somewhat of a surprise to even be able to pitch. But as Eyre mentioned on his MLBlog on Monday: ↵

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↵⇥"I sprained my right ankle in the seventh inning. They're calling it a mild sprain. I'll be able to pitch. You can bet on that. Ruben Amaro Jr. would have to hold me down and tie me up and that's not going to happen because I'm bigger than he is. I know I'm one of only two left-handers in the bullpen. I also know this might be my last season in the Majors. I'll be fine, but I sure would love Cliff Lee to throw a seven or eight innings in Game 4 to give me a couple days to rest it." ↵
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↵Lee pitched those seven or eight innings, but Eyre still got the call, this time in the ninth. The announcers made sure to alert us that Eyre had never saved a playoff game. Jayson Stark, in his wonderfully-crafted recap of the game, explained that Eyre hasn't saved any game since 2004. In fact, Eyre had only pitched in the ninth inning 11 times during the regular season – that's as many appearances for Eyre as blown saves for Lidge this year – none in save situations. But Eyre was the right matchup for Manuel. He retired Eric Young Jr., who came in to pinch hit for the announced Ian Stewart in the favorable righty vs. lefty scenario for Colorado that didn't pan out. After Gonzalez plunked a soft hit to left, Eyre retired Fowler on a line drive to short for the second out, and an imminent save. But Todd Helton got a base hit up the middle, and with the right-handed Tulowitzki at the plate in a big spot yet again, Manuel played the percentages and called on Lidge. ↵

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↵Tulowitzki never made contact. Rocktober was Rocktover. ↵

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↵Lidge struck out Tulo for his second postseason save in as many chances and the Phillies are heading back to the NLCS to face off against the Dodgers for a second straight year. Not bad for a guy most thought would never close another game this year. ↵

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↵And think about this: In the LDS, closers were the big story in so many games. Street blew this game. Jonathan Papelbon blew the Red Sox's final game. Joe Nathan did the same for the Twins. Ryan Franklin unraveled after Matt Holliday's blunder and blew that game, ostensibly ending the Cardinals season. Is 2008 Brad Lidge – the absolutely untouchable guy we saw last year – back for Philadelphia? Nobody is sure. But one thing is certain, if Charlie Manuel keeps making all the right decisions masterfully using his roster like he did in the LDS, it might not matter. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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