IT WASN'T just Jimmy Rollins showing up late at Shea Stadium. That may have pushed Charlie Manuel over the edge, but the Phillies' manager hasn't liked what he's seen for a while now.

So 3 hours before last night's scheduled first pitch, at the time when players normally begin going out to stretch, the doors to the Phillies' clubhouse swung shut. Big Chuck had a couple things on his mind.

By all accounts, he didn't rip into an underachieving group that had gone 13-20 since June 13, although his voice got a little loud at times. Instead, his message was largely constructive: That the Phillies are a better team than they've shown in the last month-and-a-half, that the players have to be accountable, that they just need to focus on playing hustling, smart baseball.

Rollins, who said after Thursday's game in New York that he disagreed with Manuel's decision to bench him, declined to talk about the meeting yesterday.

"The doors are closed. The meeting stays in there," he said as he headed toward the indoor batting cages.

Manuel explained that he thinks the team just needs to get itself back on track.

"I think there's something missing on our team," he said. "It's that little extra kick we had, that resilient effort. We need to get that shine back It wore off a chandelier. We need to get that back."

Centerfielder Shane Victorino said the meeting was positive.

"It may stand out more because of what happened, but I don't think that was it," he said. "It may just have been time. It's the first time we've been in second place in how long? Maybe that has something to do with it.

"It was nice to have the manager sit us all down and tell us it was time to get going as a team. I don't think it was sitting down yelling at us. We're a good team. I think we're a better team than we've been playing. We tried to sit us down and give us a pep talk about where we're going.

"He's the boss. Nobody disagreed with what he was saying. Everybody understood we all need to look at ourselves."

Added Manuel: "The only thing we've got to do is come out and play good. Win a couple games, start winning and everything's gonna be fine. They say in baseball, 'We gotta turn it on.' I look at it from Day 1 you should have turned it on. When the season started, you turn it on. And you play all the way through until you get eliminated.

"We're not good right now. We're inconsistent, and that leads to not being good. At times, it can help to talk about it. Hell, it can't hurt nothing. But, believe me, meetings are something that you don't necessarily need all the time. Really, that gets old, too."

The day after

Charlie Manuel, asked if he was concerned that his decision to sit the reigning National League Most Valuable Player could backfire, prefaced his answer by saying he was speaking only in generalities, not about the Jimmy Rollins situation specifically.

"Any kind of decision I make, I do what I think is right," he said. "I definitely take the time to think things through instead of just reacting. I want to make sure that I get things right.

"But when I do something, it's because I thought it was right. I don't look back. That's what I did, and that's what I thought was right. I think I'm a consistent person and I think that I treat people right. I'm honest and I'm straight and I do what I think is right. As a manager and a leader, that's what you're supposed to do."

He added that he hadn't read Rollins' comments about not believing he had let the team down, but that he had no comment on that.

Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he fully backed Manuel's decision to bench the star shortstop.

"Absolutely," he said. "Rules are rules, and I think Charlie has every right to enforce those rules. It was the appropriate way to do that. We [in the front office] were fine with his decision.

"You don't want to have those situations. Hopefully it's been handled in-house and we'll move forward."

In the first five games after Rollins was yanked from a game against the Reds for not running out a pop-up on June 5, Rollins went 4-for-19. Amaro was asked if he was concerned that the star shortstop had again run afoul of team rules.

"I don't know if concerned is the word," he said. "A little confused, maybe. But I think more than anything else, this is something that's been handled and hopefully we won't have to deal with it much more after this."

Follow the leader

One popular train of thought in the wake of the Phillies' recent troubles has been that they miss Aaron Rowand's leadership since he became a free agent and signed a 5-year, $60 million contract with the Giants.

Said Charlie Manuel: "We talk about leadership a lot. Sometimes a player being a leader is fine, but when that doesn't happen, I guess that's when the manager is supposed to be the leader. That's kind of how I look at it.

"If I'm the manager, then I'm the guy that's supposed to be the leader. Anytime you got leaders on your team, that's a bonus. That makes everything a lot better." *