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Phil Sheridan: Charlie Manuel's encore

Charlie Manuel was a good baseball manager long before Phillies fans chanted his name last October. Whatever happens this postseason, ol' Chuck has done a better job under tougher circumstances in 2009.

Charlie Manuel was a good baseball manager long before Phillies fans chanted his name last October. Whatever happens this postseason, ol' Chuck has done a better job under tougher circumstances in 2009.

Manuel managed the Phillies to a championship by creating a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere that allowed a talented team to breathe as it developed confidence in itself. The Phillies have a chance to repeat because that atmosphere didn't change, but also because Manuel's credence with his players allowed him to handle some very difficult, very delicate situations.

"I think a manager gets to know his players and I think the players get to know the manager," Manuel said yesterday. "I think a manager, to a certain degree, definitely sets a tone for the attitude and the atmosphere."

Going all the way back to Clearwater, Manuel was faced with more, and more perplexing, problems this year than in his previous seasons with the Phillies.

He chose Chan Ho Park over J.A. Happ as his fifth starter, yet managed to keep Happ's confidence high. The rookie was effective as a reluctant reliever and even better when moved into the rotation. That, of course, meant demoting Park, who turned out to be just fine as a long reliever.

Manuel stuck with shortstop and leadoff man Jimmy Rollins through an epic slump that saw the former National League MVP stumble through June hitting just above .200. Finally, Manuel gave Rollins a midseason mental-health break - something that would have felt like a benching in the hands of many managers and coaches.

That's where Manuel's true genius shows. Many of his predecessors and peers treat slumping players as if they're personally betraying their manager and their teammates. Manuel's players know he is on their side, that he understands mastery of the game is a theoretical goal rather than a real possibility.

"He stays himself," Rollins said. "That's how everyone else stays themselves. You don't feel pressure to be something you're not or be better than you are. Charlie accepts who you are. He knows your role. He makes sure you know your role."

The players deserve credit for responding, but that's not happenstance, either. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies look for players "who will fit in well with what Charlie is all about - to not be selfish and understand the real goal here is winning baseball."

Slumps happen. Even the best players fail at times. Manuel never does anything his players don't understand his reasons for doing.

"I am loyal," Manuel said. "I think I'm very loyal, but I always tell my players when I stand up in front of them, the first priority is to win the game. If I'm going to be accountable and everything, I feel like I've got to . . . do things that put us in the best position to win a game."

In 2008, Manuel got a staff-high 16 wins out of veteran starter Jamie Moyer and a perfect season from closer Brad Lidge. Managing those guys was no problem: Write Moyer's name down every fifth day and call Lidge when the ninth inning was about to start.

This year, Manuel had the very difficult task of removing the proud Moyer from the rotation in favor of Pedro Martinez and an even more challenging situation with Lidge. When Lidge struggled, games were lost, and there was no obvious replacement.

"One of the tough decisions I made is when I talked to Jamie Moyer," Manuel said. "And I get back to my heart vs. the game. The game is more important than my heart. That's why I'm in the game. That's why I manage."

Moyer went public about his unhappiness with the decision, but he pitched well in his new role as a long reliever. Lidge was briefly replaced by Ryan Madson, and it is unclear which of them would pitch the ninth inning if the Phillies had a one-run lead this afternoon. What's important is that both men are prepared to do whatever Manuel asks them to do.

"I'm expecting to get any outs Charlie asks me to get," Lidge said.

Perhaps Manuel's finest moment of the season was the final inning of the division-clinching game against Houston last week. With two out and a 10-3 lead, the manager brought Lidge in to get the final out. The roar of the crowd and a featured role in the on-field celebration served as both a tip of the cap for Lidge's 2008 contribution and a boost to his 2009 confidence.

In a year when his bullpen imploded, when none of his starters won more than 12 games, when his leadoff hitter was AWOL until July, when his purported ace Cole Hamels finished below .500 - after all that, Manuel's Phillies are back in the playoffs and set up for a run at another championship.

"I think without a doubt we're ready to go and we're ready to play," Manuel said.

When it comes to knowing his team, Manuel is usually right.