By Bill Campbell
When Charlie Manuel began his career in Philadelphia which resulted in him tallying up 1,000 wins, he was not the most popular guy in town. However, as he moved closer to that figure this month he could have been elected to any job in the city that he wanted. The only negative connected with Manuel today, after managing here since 2004, is the fact that now he won’t be able to finish the 2013 season. Skipper got the boot last Friday.
Along with many I thought that, since he had no contract for 2014, Manuel would handle the last 42 games of the season and end his tenure here. So, while it wasn’t a complete shock, it was surprising that Charlie would be dismissed at this point in an unsatisfying campaign. His work from the dugout didn’t bring about his firing. The play of the men on the field at every position and the injuries, many of them suffered by key players, did it. Not to mention the pitching staff which has been consistently sour, particularly in the bullpen. Roy Halladay has just about reached the end of the line. Cole Hamels, while remaining healthy, seems to have lost the art of getting batters out with consistency. Kyle Kendrick is not reliable. Ryan Howard suffered a crippling injury which may have all but ended his career. Carlos Ruiz, a big part of the Phillies’ drive to a pennant, was suspended for PEDs, missed the early season and clearly has lost his ability to power the team. The bench has been weak and replacements just have not been what they were hoped to be. Key performers like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are approaching the end of their string. A lot of guys’ bruises, ages and errors combined to cost Charlie Manuel his job. There’s blood on many hands.
The other day, Ruben Amaro talked about John Lannan, a Phillies’ pitcher who was not thought to be injury-prone when the team acquired him. But Lannan has just seen a doctor at the Rothman Institute with the same complaints and symptoms expressed earlier in the season: pain and tenderness in the left patella. Lannan has said this injury is a recurrence of one that sidelined him for two months earlier in 2013 and is the result of a structural issue that has bothered him for years. The Phillies’ luck just stays bad. They’ve had many stories like Lannan’s all year and they kept some of them under wraps. But they all counted, all grew legs and walked down the same path, leading Phillies’ management to one conclusion: fire the manager. Charlie, his wisdom and wit, will be sorely missed in our town.
After the Manuel firing, GM Ruben Amaro admitted that, while as of this moment Ryne Sandberg is the sole candidate being considered to replace Charlie Manuel, “the front office is still talking about the managing job and is willing to be as open-minded as possible.” Arizona’s manager, Kirk Gibson, inherited a similar situation when, at age 53, he became manager of the Diamondbacks. He was afforded more time, steering the final 83 games of the 2010 season. He was hired and the team won 94 games the following year. Sandberg has a lot to prove in a short amount of time. As a matter of fact, so does Ruben Amaro. Does anyone doubt that, after resigning aging players to mammoth contracts and making trades for less than mediocre talent, he’s on the hot seat now?
Ryne Sandberg not only managed to score a post as a major league manager, he now has managed to win his first game at the job. It happened on Sunday after the Phils had been shut out on Friday and Saturday by the Dodgers. He’ll remember that day for a long time. The Phillies had to enter the last half of the 9th inning to win it but these days both the Phillies and Sandberg will take them any way they can get them. Thanks to the victory, they also ended the Dodger’s 10-game winning streak on 2 ninth-inning errors by Hanley Ramirez. As Cole Hamels put it, “We’re trying to start over and trying to turn the page and get a new season underway.” Fans here would like to see that.
Until Sunday August 19th, the men from Los Angeles were 30-0 in their last 50 games when scoring first. It took an error on a double play ball to show the Phillies how to win and it took a brand new Phillie, Casper Wells, to do it. The Phillies scored their first run in the game when rookie Darin Ruf hit a change-up deep into the left field stands for a solo homer, his 8th in 35 games. Brandon League (6-4) was on the mound and, with one out in the ninth, Wells hit a grounder to short but Ramirez made the bad throw for an error. Carlos Ruiz then had his fourth hit in his fourth at-bat as his single put runners at the corners. Then Jimmy Rollins was intentionally walked and Young hit a grounder to short that looked like it could end the run with a double play. Ramirez bobbled the ball and Wells scored for the win. The Dodgers are still hot and enjoy a comfortable lead in the NL West. But Sandberg had some things to say after his first managerial win.
“It’s about competing,” he remarked following the win, “It’s about improvement. It’s about good play. Wins are certainly something we shoot for. This is a game against a hot team that we’ll take for now. Hopefully, we can build from this.” Sandberg’s interaction with the players, other coaches and the media will now take center stage. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he has become one of 3 managers in history to absorb shutout losses in his first 2 games. Mike Redmond had it happen to him when he took over Miami in 2013, as did Jack Chapman when he managed the Louisville team during the first season of the National League in 1876. Yes that’s 1876.
Integral to Ryne Sandberg’s first win was the pitching of Cole Hamels. He threw 7 innings in this one, fanned 8 and walked none in a game in which he didn’t figure in the decision. Hamels threw more than 115 pitches for the second straight time and looked as strong in the ninth inning as he had in the first. He may have salvaged his season with this 3-2 victory. The 29-year-old left-hander made what appeared to be a major mechanical adjustment at the end of May, following a horrendous start to his season. He explained it this way. “I wasn’t getting myself in a right timing so I could release the pitches the right way that I know I’m capable of,” he said. “Once I was able to watch a video of years past and work on things over and over, it finally clicked and ‘Boom, I get it’. Then I got it.” Hamels has a 2.66 in 98 innings (14 starts) since June first, but the Phils are just 7-7 in those games. He has pitched at least 5 innings in 68 straight starts which is the second longest streak in the big leagues, just behind Kansas City’s James Shields (70 starts). In each of his last 5 starts he’s lasted at least 7 innings. His ERA for that most recent span is 1.66. Hamels has progressively improved as the team has floundered. “You have to keep pushing yourself,” the pitcher has said. “You can never be satisfied with what’s happened in the past. You have to keep preparing for the next game. You have to keep expecting to do well.” It looks like that’s what Hamels has done and it shows.
While Alex Rodriguez has gotten most of the suspension headline of late, they really should have gone to the Kansas City Royals’ infielder, Miguel Tejada. Last Saturday, he became the third former Most Valuable Player to be suspended in the last month after testing positive for an amphetamine. He was bounced for 105 games. Many of his team mates learned of his suspension while watching television in the club house before their game with Detroit. Tejada drew one of the MLB’s stiffer penalties, though Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games (now on appeal) and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, was tossed for 65. All 3 players have been dogged by doping allegations in the past. It’s caught up with them. Tejada made the usual apologies, which are starting to sound like a tape recorded message: “I apologize to my team mates, the Royals’ organization and the Kansas City fans.” He added, “I have a medical condition that requires medication to treat. I took the medication while re-applying for an exemption. I made a mistake in doing so.” The Associated Press said Tejada tested positive for Adderall, a substance used to treat attention deficit disorder. This is the same condition and medication that Carlos Ruiz drew a 25-game suspension for at the start of the season and Ruiz’s absence in the lineup at the season’s start clearly was felt. Tejada is a 6-time All Star and was the American League MVP in 2002. He previously had tested positive twice and, under the league’s amphetamine policy, he was subject to a 25-game ban for a second positive test and an 80-game ban for a third. He’s through for this season and the sanction will carry over for 2 months in 2014.
Riley Cooper and the QBs
The narrative on the Eagles’ Riley Cooper seems to have changed. Three weeks ago, when Cooper was seen using a racial slur on a video, his presence on the Birds’ roster seemed questionable. He left the team for some counseling and regrouping and it wasn’t clear whether he ever would be back. Now, he seems to have made some new assurances to his team mates and his place seems to be secure. The Eagles have commented that Cooper is remaining and, in fact, seems destined to play a major role in the season. At the moment, he appears to be the starting left wide receiver in place of the injured Jeremy Maclin. The coaching staff seems to be counting on him to be a central part of the offense. After a career mostly spent playing behind Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, Cooper is said to be playing on their level. In 3 seasons, he has 46 catches for 5 touchdowns. Despite the racist comment that caused such a stir a month ago, now he could be poised to top those total during the coming season. We’ll wait and see. They Eagles will play a preseason game against the Jaguars this Saturday in Jacksonville at 7:30.
Of greatest significance to us, Chip Kelly announced yesterday that Michael Vick will be the starting quarterback for the Eagles when they open the season in Washington on Monday, September 9th. Nick Foles will be the back-up. More on that next week.