Jim Salisbury: This kinship goes deep
WASHINGTON - Charlie Manuel knows just what Jon Lester was feeling. No, Manuel never experienced the thrill of throwing a no-hitter in the major leagues.
WASHINGTON - Charlie Manuel knows just what Jon Lester was feeling.
No, Manuel never experienced the thrill of throwing a no-hitter in the major leagues.
But the Phillies' manager knows the elation and relief that go with hearing the words, "You're cancer-free."
Lester became the feel-good story of the still-young baseball season when he no-hit the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park on Monday night.
The buzz that the 24-year-old Boston Red Sox lefthander created crackled all the way to the manager's office in the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park yesterday.
Manuel, a baseball junkie who stays up until all hours watching games on television, had seen the highlights of Lester's pitching gem after the Phils' game Monday night.
In 45 years in the pro game, Manuel has seen enough baseball to know how difficult it is for a pitcher to throw a no-hitter.
But to throw one 20 months after learning you have cancer?
"Absolutely fantastic," Manuel said. "When you look at what that kid has overcome, it's absolutely tremendous."
The Red Sox play in Philadelphia next month, and when they do, Lester should expect a visit from Manuel. It won't simply be a chat between two baseball men. It will be a chat between two cancer survivors.
"I'm going to make a point to hunt him down," Manuel said. "I want to meet him. I want to shake his hand. I know a little bit about what he went through. When someone tells you that you have cancer, it's a shock. You're scared. It's deadly. That's the first thing that hits you."
Manuel, 64, survived kidney cancer in 2000, when he was managing the Cleveland Indians.
Lester was 7-2 in his first 15 starts as a rookie with the Red Sox when he found out he had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system, in September 2006.
His story became big news last fall when, a little more than a year after the diagnosis, he pitched 52/3 shutout innings to win the World Series Game 4 clincher for the Red Sox.
That performance proved that Lester had beaten the cancer.
Monday night's no-hitter - his 14th win in 18 big-league decisions - was the knockout punch.
Even with his Phillies club riding a three-game losing streak entering last night's game against the Nationals, Manuel was able to feel good about that.
He had been there.
Ditto for first base coach Davey Lopes, who beat prostate cancer earlier this spring.
"The main thing I look at is the kid is healthy," Lopes said. "All the other stuff is residual. A no-hitter is nice, but it's more important he's healthy and cancer-free and has the potential to pitch many more no-hitters before he's through.
"You have to feel good for the kid. I'm sure the Kansas City Royals even felt good for him. Sure, there's competition there, but this guy has had a little more going on in his life than others."
Manuel followed Lester's story long before the pitcher won Game 4 of the World Series in October. There's a kinship among baseball people, and it's a little deeper when cancer is involved.
Manuel still marvels at how lucky he was that doctors found his cancer. He was having emergency surgery for diverticulitis when a grapefruit-size mass was discovered in his right kidney.
"When the doctor did the operation, his hand hit my kidney and it was real hard," Manuel said. "He knew right away."
Cancer isn't the only illness Manuel has beaten. He suffered a heart attack 10 years ago. He says that during quadruple-bypass surgery, doctors removed his heart and put it on a table.
"You want to talk about pressure," he said, scoffing at some of the headaches he deals with as a big-league manager. "That's pressure."
And so is this: After undergoing surgery for diverticulitis, Manuel managed with a colostomy bag under his jacket for three months.
"I'd sit on the bench and people would move away from me," he said, joking.
"I remember doing an interview with a radio reporter and I kept making noises. The guy thought I had a whoopee cushion or something. He thought I was messing with him, but I wasn't."
Managing in that condition had its challenges. Manuel worried about going on the field and arguing with umpires for fear of embarrassing himself.
But he survived.
And so did Lester.
That's why Monday night's no-hitter was so special to everyone affiliated with the Red Sox. This wasn't an ordinary no-hitter - not that there's such a thing - and if you saw the way Lester's teammates hugged him when it was over, you can attest to that.
There was a lot of emotion and feeling there. A friend, a teammate, a cancer survivor pitched a no-hitter. It was a magic moment, the feel-good story of the young season.
What would be the equivalent for a cancer-surviving manager?
"Winning the World Series," Manuel said. "That would be fantastic."