Rich Hofmann: Phillies manager Manuel says Moyer has earned right to start

"I think Jamie Moyer, after all these years, I think he's earned the right to start a game in the World Series," Charlie Manuel said. "I think he's one of the big reasons why we're here today." (Jerry Lodriguss / Staff Photographer)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It is really simple, Charlie Manuel was saying. You get the impression there was no extended debate, nor should there have been. In an enormous spot, following a maddening loss, he is giving the ball to Jamie Moyer, and that is that.

"I think Jamie Moyer, after all these years, I think he's earned the right to start a game in the World Series," Manuel said. "I think he's one of the big reasons why we're here today. He won 16 games this year and at one time this guy was our most consistent pitcher, whether you believe it or not.

"He's done a tremendous job for us," the manager said.

It is how Manuel has managed throughout his tenure, with respect for people and with confidence in their professionalism. It is what has made the Phillies the Phillies — their enduring acceptance of a manager who has their back, and their determination to reward that kind of treatment with professionalism returned in kind.

Given that, the moment demands Moyer. The World Series is tied at a game apiece following last night's 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, and now we'll see.

"If I was younger I probably wouldn't appreciate this as much as I do," Moyer said. "Because you think it's going to happen four or five times in your career. Whereas now, it's never happened, I'm 45 and at the end of my career. I've been waiting for this for a long time, hoping to get into this situation. I appreciate it far more now."

The imperatives are simple enough. The series is tied. The advantage belongs to no one on paper. But the reality is that the Phillies have to find a way to win one of the next two games, with Moyer and Joe Blanton on the mound. They need one of two and then they need to climb back aboard Cole Hamels' back in Game 5.

The problems, like those imperatives, are also simple enough. Moyer has not yet seen the fifth inning in the playoffs. He was mediocre and unlucky against Milwaukee in the National League Division Series, giving up two earned runs in four labored innings against the Brewers. He was battered against Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series, giving up six earned runs and getting only four outs before being lifted.

It is not the way anybody involved would want the lead-up to this moment to be written — not after his 16-7 record and 196 innings pitched this season, all at the age of 45. That was magical, in many ways — and October has been a cold slap.

"The last outing [in Los Angeles] was the last outing," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said, as last night turned into this morning and the Phillies' packed up for their flight home. "I think Jamie felt more pressure at the start of the playoffs than he does now.

"When you get older, when you get later in your career, you know the opportunities are going to come less and less. But now that we're here in the World Series, I think he's more relaxed now. I think we're going to see the Jamie Moyer we saw for 16 wins."

With that, there is no question that Moyer should be starting this game, despite his struggles in the playoffs so far, despite everything. It makes perfect sense and poetic sense: Moyer, homeboy, finally home, finally in the World Series.

Really, the only other alternative would have been rookie J.A. Happ. There is no reasonable calculation that would make that sensible. If Moyer gets clobbered, the second-guessing will commence immediately — a fact and a tradition that is older than Moyer, as old as the game itself. But this is what should happen.

Before last night's game, the sloppy game filled with missed opportunities for the Phillies — as messy a game for the Phils as Game 1 was neat and clean — Manuel was talking about his 45-year-old lefthander, the man's whose first major-league appearance was in 1986. He was talking about the byplay between Moyer and his teammates.

"They call him old man, grandpa, and all that stuff," Manuel said. "Sometimes they call him a lot of things they call me. He takes it pretty good. He has comebacks for them, too."

Comebacks. Interesting word. With that, we wait.

It is, in all honesty, hard to know what to expect. The start against the Dodgers was really rough. At the same time, the man has spent a lifetime confounding the conventional wisdom. He spent the 2008 regular season absolutely annihilating the conventional wisdom.

This is what should happen for him. This: Game 3, World Series, homeboy, at home, finally. *

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