THERE IS AN old beatitude in the Church of Baseball Batechism:
"Blessed are the hunch players, for they shall see three-run homers."
Charlie Manuel is a deacon in the C of B and his hunches are educated ones. When it comes to lineup tinkering, he is the Thomas Edison of better mousetrap building.
The matinee against Lou Piniella's scuffling Cubs was leadoff man Jimmy Rollins' fourth game since he came off the disabled list after missing a month with a calf strain suffered minutes before the home opener running a get-loose sprint on the newly sodded grass of The Bank.
So, the leadoff man, who was the 2007 National League MVP in that role, batted No. 3 against the Pirates Monday and Tuesday. He might have returned to his traditional spot in the order a little earlier, but Shane Victorino was keeping the leadoff spot brimstone hot and Chase Utley was sidelined with flulike symptoms. So, No. 3 it was.
Utley was back Wednesday night, but Charlie wanted two righthanded bats behind Ryan Howard and in front of Raul Ibanez against lefthander Tom Gorzelanny, so J-Roll batted No. 6.
What in the Wide Wide World of Sports is going on here?
Managers whose speed guys both switch-hit can have their cake and eat it, too. And when Manuel decided on his lineup yesterday, the manager had served himself a big slice of pound cake - Nutrisystem approved, of course.
With three games under his belt and no signs of lingering soreness from Jimmy's injury and with Utley back in his accustomed No. 3 hole, it might have been time to shoot with the lineup that was planned all along. In two well-pitched losses by Roy Halladay and Jamie Moyer, the Phillies managed just two runs. Waste two gems at home against sad-sack teams with losing records, maybe it was time to revert to Plan A.
So, yesterday the All-Star leadoff hitter was in the No. 5 hole. Charlie had decided to rest Jayson Werth on his 31st birthday, so he dropped Rollins behind permanent cleanup hitter Ryan Howard against righthander Ryan Dempster.
Four games back from the DL and Manuel's No. 1 had batted No. 3 twice, No. 6 and No. 5.
Charlie has the Midas touch of the little kid who reaches into a huge pile of manure on Christmas morning and pulls out a beautiful pony.
This time the manager's creative lineup turned up Smarty Jones.
Jimmy struck out and flied out to Marlon Byrd in his first two at-bats, Joe Blanton clinging to a 1-0 lead Utley gave him in the first with his 10th homer. Joe lost his no-hitter in the fifth after Howard failed to relocate a pop foul by Alfonso Soriano in the high sky - no thanks to a brief contact with first-base ump Gary Darling that caused the first baseman to take his eye off the ball. "Well, here comes the first hit," observed MLB.com senior columnist Hal Bodley. "It happens every time." Soriano ripped a double and Blanton's stuff went from no-hit to can't-miss.
"Jimmy switch-hits, so I wanted a lefthanded bat in the No. 5 spot," Charlie said, as if genius needs any explanation.
"But Victorino also switch-hits . . . " I sputtered to the manager after his formal news conference. Manuel answered the implied question with a sly wink.
And so would you, if your No. 5 for a day had been up there in the sixth inning with two outs in a second-and-third situation, with the count run out to 3-0. And you tugged your ear or touched your nose twice or whatever Sam Perlozzo relayed from Manuel to green light J-Roll on 3-0.
Charlie likes the green light the way moonshiners in his part of Virginia liked fast autos. Rollins turned on Dempster's fastball gift and tanked it deep into the seats for a 4-1 Phillies lead that became a tense, 5-4 victory when Ibanez scored Utley with a two-out single in the eighth and Jose Contreras tightroped to an adventurous second save.
There is another beatitude in the Church of Baseball:
"Blessed are the closers, for they shall see the big bucks."
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