Charlie Manuel has managed every game of the playoffs this year as if it were an elimination game, and it takes your breath away -- the boldness, the bullseye he willingly paints on his back, the idea that post-season baseball is the time to go for it, to clearly and unequivocally put your ass on the line. It is striking.
There once was a manager around here named Jim Fregosi, and he was all about that old Jeopardy category, "Actors and their roles." Under Frego, there were seventh-inning relievers and there were eighth-inning relievers and there were ninth-inning relievers. There were guys you used only when you were losing in the middle innings and guys you only used when you were winning. The roles were so well-defined that the guys in the bullpen could have made the pitching changes themselves. There never would have been the need for the sight that Phillies fans have now seen twice in this series, of pitching coach Rich Dubee doing semaphore in an attempt to implement the strategy that he and Manuel had just concocted in a crisis.
In Game 2, when J.A. Happ took that rifle shot off of his leg, Dubee was forced to spell out a big capital E in the air to get the bullpen to realize they wanted Scott Eyre. In Game 3, when Eyre went down with an ankle sprain while trying to make a play in the field, Dubee was forced to pantomime that he wanted the tall guy in the seventh inning -- Ryan Madson -- even though there were two other guys warming up and Madson hadn't thrown a pitch.
It is hair-on-fire managing. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- thought Manuel would go to Madson that early. What it meant, right then, was that Brad Lidge was going to be closing the game if there was a closing situation. Everybody knew it in their heart when Madson arrived on the mound. Sitting home on my couch, warm and comfortable, nearly 7 hours after finishing my column on the Eagles game -- 7 hours! -- it was all I could process. If this worked out, an entire season of drama and heartache for Lidge was going to play out in a couple of minutes with the clock already past 2 am. I know that's closing time, but I cannot imagine that anyody was thrown out of any bar in the city of Philadelphia as this morality play reached its final act. And I cannot imagine that any police officer cared.
Frego would not have used both Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ in Game 2. He probably would not have have used Blanton as early as Manuel did in Game 3, and he would not have used Madson -- the presumptive closer -- in the seventh. Actors and their roles, after all.
This isn't to knock Fregosi -- because he's a great baseball man. Most people manage the same way -- you keep people within their comfort zones and you manage the same as you have all season. And if the situation bites you, well, that's baseball.
Manuel, though, has decided to bite back.