HE TOOK his medicine. Jimmy Rollins took his benching yesterday like a man, like a teammate, maybe even like the leader he purports to be.

"He has two rules," Rollins said after Charlie Manuel removed him for not hustling out his popup to Reds shortstop Paul Janish with two outs in the third inning. "Be on time and hustle.

"I broke one of them today."

So he sat. On the bench, a towel over his head at first, a chatterbox talking up his teammates by game's end. Not sulking in the clubhouse. Not throwing things off of walls or destroying property.

On the bench, with the team. His team.

"Nobody skipped a beat, so why should I bring attention on me?" he asked. "Look at me, feel sorry for me? Shoot . . . "

Rollins didn't run hard to first in the third inning yesterday. He should have. He's done it before, and if Janish hadn't muffed the ball - allowing the Phillies' first run to score - he might have even gotten away with it. What you learned yesterday was, this was an issue that has come up before between the manager and player, a conversation that apparently led to an "or else" at some point.

Manuel's punishment - which didn't come until after the fourth inning was over and spared the embarrassment of removing him in front of 45,492 - was as much about those episodes as yesterday's.

Rollins admitted this. "Three strikes," he said, "and I'm out."

It was wrong, bad baseball, selfish baseball, the kind of baseball that costs teams ballgames. On a team that has Chase Utley pile-driving catchers and Shane Victorino running out everything, it stands out like Aaron Rowand's broken nose. From a guy who just a few days before scolded Tom Gordon to "throw strikes," and who talked later of playing "every inning of every game" from here on, it's unfathomable.

Which is why, when he was removed with a simple "Bruntlett's in," it had the stands, the press box, the announcing crews buzzing about something other than Cole Hamels' 5-0 three-hitter, about something other than an 8-2 homestand that suggested this Phillies team - particularly its starting staff - was finding itself.

Brett Myers had two great starts this homestand. Adam Eaton has pitched well in four of his last five starts. Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer continue to magnetize run support and Hamels - coming off two awful starts - was a model of efficiency yesterday (nine innings, 103 pitches). Rollins jogged all over that.

And that was wrong, too.

But what you also learned yesterday was that the Phillies are definitely Manuel's team, and that Rollins - despite occasional bravado that sometimes borders on petulance - has grown up before our eyes the way Allen Iverson has.

Because he could have waved his MVP award around and said he deserved better. He could have cited his status as a veteran and said the same thing. He could have said he was treated unfairly, said he was feeling under the weather, said he was being held to a standard that others were not held to. He could have said just about anything else, disappeared afterward even, and this story, in this town, at this time of year, would have gotten legs.

We've grown accustomed to this kind of reaction from superstars. It's never their fault. Except this time Rollins said it was. There always seems to be these mystery circumstances we wouldn't understand. Except this time there was none.

There always seems to be some lingering animosity toward the manager. "I can't get mad at him," Rollins said. "That's like breaking the law and getting mad that the police show up."

Instead, he put up his hands. He confessed. He pointed no fingers, wore a smile through all the uncomfortable questions during a lengthy postgame session with the media.

Most of all, he stayed on the bench and stayed active, neither slumping or sulking.

"This is a team. I'm not going to be a distraction that way," he said. "I mean, I did what I did, but I still got to go out there and pull for my team. I mean, it's not their fault. And they shouldn't have to worry about that becoming a distraction."

A statement perhaps, he was asked?

"Was it a statement? I'd never look at it that way.

"But if you want to write that, you can." *

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