Since becoming Phillies manager before the 2005 season, Charlie Manuel has fought the perception that he is a pushover in pinstripes.

Maybe it's the folksy way he talks or his avuncular looks. Maybe it's because, for some, the term players' manager seems to suggest weakness and images of inmates running the asylum.

Manuel is no wimp, though, and if you didn't realize that the day he wagged a finger in the face of club icon Dallas Green two summers ago, maybe you will now.

And we're not just talking about his standing up to the reigning National League most valuable player yesterday, although that was part of it.

Here are a couple of numbers to spread on your Friday morning bagel: 12-4.

That's the Phillies' record since May 19. On that night, the Phillies were shut out, 4-0, by the Washington Nationals and righthander Tim Redding. It was the Phils' third straight loss, dropping them to 24-22.

Manuel didn't like what he saw that night, nor in the previous two games, both losses to Toronto. He didn't like the effort his team showed. He saw a lack of hustle. He was irked that Shane Victorino had come off the disabled list and whined a little bit about a lack of playing time.

After that game, Manuel walked into the clubhouse and let his team have it. He was loud, angry, and to the point. He told his players that he was the manager. He told them to shut up about playing time, that he'd give it to those who earned it. He scolded them for not hustling, for playing sloppily, for not running out balls.

No one outside the club knew about Manuel's tirade until an insider quietly spilled the beans after the manager benched Rollins for not running out a dropped pop-up in yesterday's 5-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

It seems that Manuel's benching of Rollins and his postgame chat with the shortstop barely registered on the Richter scale when compared to Manuel's blowup in Washington. But nobody outside the club knew about that eruption because Manuel doesn't conduct his business that way. Some managers, particularly ones who have worked here in rough, tough Philadelphia, play to the crowd, wear their toughness on their sleeve, and let the whole world know when they pitch a fit. Manuel does his dirty work behind the scenes and tells no one about it. Because of that, he's occasionally perceived as being soft. But he's not. And that 12-4 record since May 19 is testament to that.

Manuel's tirade that night in Washington sparked the club. Since then, the Phils have risen to first place in the NL East, and after completing an 8-2 homestand yesterday, look like the team to beat. Again.

If a manager's job is to get the most out of his team, then that weakling Manuel has done a pretty good job lately. He helped the Phils survive a poor start and waves of pitching injuries in surging to the division title last season, and he has picked up where he left off this season. He has handled the psyches of his players well, building confidence in Pat Burrell and keeping Brett Myers sane during a tough stretch. He has pushed the right buttons on the field, and his players have rewarded him with execution. (It's always nice to have the best bullpen in the league.)

Three seasons after Manuel was hired, there is no doubt this is his team now. He has a division title under his belt and a contract extension in his wallet. Manuel knows it's his team. So do the players.

Rollins knew he crossed the line yesterday, knew he made his manager, a man he respects, look bad. Managers can impact effort, and a player who dogs it embarrasses his manager. Manuel was right to bench Rollins. It's easy to be tough with role players. It takes guts to stand up to the big boys. You can question Manuel's in-game strategy all you want - all managers are subject to that - but don't question what's inside his gut.

Rollins showed a lack of leadership in not running out that ball in the third inning. But he showed plenty of leadership and maturity in the way he took his medicine.

"It's my fault," he said. "I can't get mad at him. That's like breaking the law and getting mad when the police show up."

Manuel, the players' manager who puts his players first, has a short memory when it comes to their transgressions. Rollins will be back in the lineup tonight in Atlanta and the incident will be over. But the carry-over effect could be significant. Rollins could catch fire, the way Victorino did after Manuel called him out. And any player who might be tempted not to run out a ball or play hard surely will have second thoughts after seeing the MVP get yanked from the game yesterday.

This can only make the Phillies better, and they're already pretty good. Their 8-2 homestand pushed them to 10 games over .500. The pitching has been good. The bats have been timely. And that pushover in the manager's chair hasn't been bad, either.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.