Twenty-nine years to the night that Tug McGraw flung both arms skyward in a joyous leap, then turned to await Mike Schmidt's airborne arrival, the 1980 Muleskinner stood on the mound.
Waiting to catch last night's first ball toss was the 2009 Mule.
Dallas Green and Charlie Manuel . . .
For a long time during the summer of 2007, the special adviser to general manager Pat Gillick and the manager did not speak. Green went on the radio one day, shot from the lip, as is his custom, and gave the impression he didn't think Charlie was the sharpest knife in the managerial drawer.
One by one, all of Manuel's critics - and I was an early adaptor who saw the light during a captivating spring-training dinner in 2008 where I learned just how much more there was to this man than filling out a lineup card. He writes witty and literate e-mails, speaks with erudition about the Civil War, collects rare coins and can read the stock charts easily as, well, Lenny Dykstra. And he is a kind and compassionate human being.
So there was Dallas Green, the Dalai Lama of Tough Love soft-tossing with his 75-year-old arm to Charlie Manuel, a man who learned many years ago that it is a lot easier to pull a loaded wagon than to push it. In a few hours they would be toasting with champagne while another wild pennant celebration raged in a clubhouse that has been awash in more squirted alcohol during its brief existence than Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday.
A 10-4 pennant clincher tends to produce a tide that raises all boats.
As managers they are as different in style as a Parris Island Marine drill instructor and your favorite grandfather, Green a professed "yeller and a cusser," and Manuel, who uses the phrase "at the same time" as a device to examine both sides of every situation.
History brought them together before the ballgame where Manuel's team did something no other Phillies team has done in 126 years of operation in the National League. They brought a second consecutive pennant to a town that has moved swiftly from the stigma of first team to 10,000 losses to three straight Eastern Division titles, two pennants, one World Series title and another stab at the Golden Ring starting next Wednesday. Most likely in a dream matchup with the American League team they most resemble in longball power, the New York Yankees.
Green was a pitcher's manager. His 1980 team was nowhere close to Manuel's Maulers, even with Mike Schmidt cranking out a career-high 48 homers.
The Maulers outhomered the 1980 champions by an amazing 224-117 in the regular season. And have added on another 14 in nine postseason games, including 10 against the shellshocked Dodgers' staff.
That's some serious poundin', as Charlie might say. He's so fond of the three-run homer - yep, Jayson Werth's second hit of the NLCS was a three-run, first-inning bomb off Vicente Padilla. It left the 6-5 tower of sinew 2-for-15. His previous hit was a two-run homer, of course, and a solo shot in the seventh last night left him with six RBI in the Phillies' second consecutive five-game elimination of Joe Torre's West champions.
A lot of people who still were not sold on Manuel after the Phillies were surgically swept out of the division series by the out-of-nowhere Rockies in 2007 have now watched the Phillies methodically grind out an astounding 18-5 record in five postseason series since - 3-1 (Brewers), 4-1 (Dodgers), 4-1 (Rays), 3-1 (Rockies) and 4-1 (Dodgers).
Two seasons of October excellence and the Phillies have yet to be faced with an elimination game. In prior Octobers, going back to their first pennant in 1915, their record was an undistinguished 25-42.
So, welcome to the Phillies' first certifiable Golden Age.
The essence of this team was succinctly and accurately stated by Ryan Madson during a pregame turn at the podium.
"I think we're just ordinary guys that just do extraordinary things," Madson said.
The "ordinary" referred to the remarkable lack of egos in the clubhouse as noted by the scribes whose job it is to go pitchers-and-catchers to November with the ballclub, an odyssey that now has passed the 200-game mark counting spring-training exhibitions.
Manuel has put his folksy spin on Madson's observation many times over the season, but it is worth repeating.
"I think we've got a bunch of guys who love to play baseball, and the guys who like to play, they stand out in the field. I don't have to tell you who they are because you'll see them," Charlie said before sending his squad out to a victory that appeared on the edge of being a laugher until unmerry Old Cole Hamels treated a 6-2 lead like a bar of wet soap and sent Charlie to his bullpen much too early. Once again, the much-maligned Phillies' pen outpitched the impregnable Dodgers' relief corps.
Not to worry . . .
The Phillies played Manuel Baseball, which at its baseline is Home Run Derby. The only missing element was Ramon Henderson, the former bullpen coach and batting practice pitcher who grooved Ryan Howard to the title at the Pittsburgh All-Star Game.
The record will show that Joe Torre's pitchers were named Padilla, Troncoso, Sherrill, Kershaw, Kuo and Belisario. But they were only aliases. We know that was really Ramon, throwing those middle-in meatballs Chris Wheeler so loves to describe.
Werth, three-run blast to right in the first . . . Pedro Feliz, a tracer to right off The Iguana leading off the second . . . Shane Victorino, a robust two-run launch deep into the seats in left in the sixth . . . Werth again, this time a solo jolt over the 409 sign to the left of center with one out in the seventh.
The Phils had amassed a 9-3 lead with just six hits.
And except for the high anxiety of bases loaded with nobody out in the eighth and Madson on a suddenly lonely hill, the six-run pad melted to 9-4 before he tightroped to safety. The bases stayed loaded. Ryan got three outs, the crowd a-rising, white-crested tsunami of sound.
The exhalation after Casey Blake bounced into a force was enough to snuff the burnoff on Refinery Row.
And in the sweetest bit of irony, Brad Lidge ended it with a 1-2-3 ninth. Enjoy . . .
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