CHARLIE MANUEL knows he does not translate well on camera. And the advent of the postgame press conference has presented both a challenge for this baseball man of 45 seasons, and an opportunity for his harshest critics to provoke him.

Most of the time he answers those critics amiably and with little animosity, but last night was not one of those times. On the heels of a lifeless, 8-1 loss to the Mets, with his most incessant critic prodding him to throw a clubhouse tirade, Manuel instead unleashed a profanity-filled 10-minute tongue-lashing toward the critic inside his office, adding an extra dose when their eyes met in the clubhouse minutes later.

"I think they see me angry more than you think [they] do," Manuel said as his emotions heated up. "I think maybe you don't see me angry. I can show you that I can get angry."

"Maybe if you did that to a player, you think that would work?" taunted the critic.

The rest was not for family consumption.

Manuel's eruption seemed to have little to do with either the results of the day or the questions asked afterward. It was much more about the questioner, and what Manuel believes has been unfair criticism over his entire tenure as Phillies manager.

It's a constant theme with him these days, that the perception of him is a reflection of his current team more than his history. Whether the Phillies are being thrown out at third stealing with their cleanup hitter at the plate, failing to move runners or just swinging at bad pitches in good counts, squandering gift-wrapped chances via bad baseball is a trait of this team that precedes this manager.

And defies the reputation he built over decades as a minor-league manager and instructor.

"When I was in the minor leagues I used to teach my guys," said Manuel, who has piloted teams to first-place finishes in Double A, Triple A and with Cleveland in the major leagues. "I was very hands on. I was a very fundamental player and a very fundamental coach. So when I sent guys to the major leagues I wanted them to be the best players when they got here."

So why hasn't it happened here?

On this topic only, Manuel will admit he doesn't have a clue.

"I'm the same manager here as I was there," he said. "There is no difference. Absolutely no difference. In a matter-of-fact, the toughest place to manage is Triple A baseball. The reason is you've got guys who have been there a long time and everybody wants to come to the big leagues. And they'll see the Chicago Cubs call up a second baseman and my second baseman in Triple A would get mad and upset and throw a fit.

"Believe me, the toughest place to manage is Triple A. Really. You've got to put out brush fires every day."

The Phillies left 12 runners stranded last night, including bases loaded twice. It's a category they lead the National League in, as viable an explanation for their slow start as their faulty bullpen or questionable managerial decisions.

It is also a trait that predates Manuel's tenure. I once believed that his predecessor, Larry Bowa, rode this team's clutch too hard. I was wrong. Truth is, the gears to this team slip no matter how gentle or harsh the handler, especially when going uphill.

As Manuel said before last night's game, "Here, they are going to blame the manager. And if that's the way it is, that's OK. But look: I don't strike out and I don't miss a popup and I don't make baserunning mistakes. And we're talking about major league players."

Those were sentiments expressed often by Bowa, especially amid his final season.

Manuel was also not on the field in the sixth inning when the Phillies recorded three outs on the Mets - and needed to be waved into the dugout by the umpires. This offseason, coaches were hired ostensibly to firm up the fundamentals this team is so often lacking. Nothing has changed. They still stall going uphill.

An inning after their little problem with the outs, after another unproductive inning, what remained of the announced crowd of 27,058 broke into an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. Indeed, with the wind blowing and people wrapped in parkas, it looked like football weather out there.

With the Braves revamped for another pennant drive and reports of the Mets demise greatly exaggerated, maybe in fact, it was. The NFL draft is 10 days away, and minicamp starts 2 weeks after that.

It's hard to imagine the Phillies fixing all their faults by then. It's even harder to imagine Charlie Manuel surviving the process.

But he's been here before. As has his mercurial team. If his experience in Philadelphia has taught him anything, it is that the implausible is often plausible.

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