You win, they'll forgive

Charlie Manuel doesn't always have a way with words, but he is a smart man, and month and a half ago he said seemed strangely prophetic as the celebration at Citizens Bank Park unfolded. It was in the middle of the whole Jimmy Rollins fiasco, when the MVP short stop took Philadelphia fans task for their whimsical nature. The Phillies were in Los Angeles at the time, leaving a bunch of media types - particularly those who have been in the city for awhile - to wonder how the remarks might tarnish the legacy Rollins has built here. Manuel shrugged it off.

"You win," he said, "they'll forgive."

As the champagne spray mixed with a light mist and coated everything that dared peek its head out of the home dugout after last night's 4-3 NL East-clinching victory over the Nationals, it was interesting to watch a number of story lines complete their full circles.

Rollins, who was booed steadily for a week after his remarks, was cheered wildly as he grasped a portable microphone and thanked the fans. Without a doubt, the only thing most Philadelphians will remember from this point forward is the short stop's dramatic diving stop of a Ryan Zimmerman ground ball with one out and the bases loaded in the top of the night, which kicked into motion a division-clinching double play that gave Brad Lidge his most improbable - and his most important - save of the season.

There was Ryan Howard, maligned for much of the season, booed often as he struggled through a horrendous first half, being greeted with chants of M-V-P as he roamed the first base line wearing goggles and grasping a bottle of champagne.

And, finally, perhaps most significant of all, there was Charlie Manuel.

So overcome by the aftermath of the Phillies' second division title, the manager retreated to his office while players and front office staff partied in the haze of alcohol and precipitation. The couple thousand fans who remained behind to celebrate took notice. A chant started behind the home dugout, and quickly spread throughout the lower bowl of the stadium.

We want Charlie!

We want Charlie!

We want Charlie!

Last year, he had to wait until the end of the Phillies' improbable playoff run just to learn if he would get another year as a major league manager. Ridiculed by many as too slow, too dim-witted, too American-League to lead a team like the Phillies to a World Series, the masses were suddenly chanting his name.

Manuel obliged. Summoned by some Phillies staffers, he ambled down the tunnel and up the steps and out onto the field. He doffed his cap as the fans roared.

You win, they'll forgive.

They'll forgive an up-and-down season plagued by maddening inconsistency. They'll forgive a loquacious short stop, and a once-struggling first baseman, and an old-school manager. They'll forgive  a slow start, and some critical late-season losses.

But forgiveness in Philadelphia is not eternal, and when the Phillies open the postseason on Wednesday against either Milwaukee or Los Angeles, the memory of a night like Saturday will dissipate into the crisp autumn air.

Charlie knows this, and so he left the crowd with a promise.

"Believe me," he said. "We're going to go farther in the playoffs than we did last year."

It was a familiar refrain.

"We're not done yet," second baseman Chase Utley said.

"Who cares about last year?" starter Brett Myers said.

Come Monday, when the radio waves start crackling and Joe from the Northeast takes a break from his job, a lot of people will care about last year. Three-and-out will not suffice this time around. Perhaps as evidence, the celebration was a bit more muted this year. It was more about personal significane this time around, featuring players like Geoff Jenkins, who had gone his first 10 big league seasons without tasting the playoffs, and Scott Eyre, who was shipped away from one National League contender and had the good fortune to land with another.

Eyre, the left-handed reliever the Phillies had sought all season, sat silently on the bench in the home dugout and watched the early stages of the celebration unfold. For a brief moment, he put his elbows on his knees and his forehead in his hands and closes his eyes.

"Considering where I was two months ago. . .," he said, and his voice trailed off.

Considering where the Phillies were as a team, mired in a dog fight with the Mets, 3.5 games behind at one point, it all made for good theatre.

The Phillies and their fans are well aware the team has not won a World Series in nearly three decades.

But as Manuel slipped past the television cameras and retreated back to the clubhouse, you were left with the wise words of an old skipper.

You win, they'll forgive.


Some odds and ends: Noticably absent from the post-game party was  Shane Victorino, who collided with Rollins in shallow center field on a pop fly that Rollins ended up corralling for the first out of the eighth inning. Victorino got up limping, but finished the inning and in the bottom half of the frame legged out an infield single that led to a pivotal insurance run. But after the game, as his teammates partied, he quietly slipped behind the plastic covering at his locker and gathered his belongings. Manuel described the injury as a bruised shin.

"I'm concerned about him," Manuel said.

Victorino won't play tomorrow, the same for Cole Hamels, the likely game one starter. Chase Utley and most of the other regulars will likely get a day off. Manuel said Ryan Howard might play, given that he is two home runs shy of 50 and nursing the longest consecutive games streak in the majors. Howard is also one strikeout shy of 200. But that seems like an afterthought given his brilliant September.


Kyle Kendrick, who was disappointed to be left off the playoff roster, will start Sunday.


If the Mets win and Brewers lose, the Phillies host Los Angeles. If the Brewers win and Mets lose, the Phillies host Milwaukee. If both win or both lose, the Mets and Brewers will play a one-game play-off on Monday for the right to face the Phillies.


That's all for now. No paper tomorrow, so this is all you are going to get from the Daily News.

Still amazed at the way this one ended. I can't think of a more dramatic way for a game to end with the winning team on defense.

Enjoy it.

For a night.