Manuel's great run shouldn't have ended this way

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Manuel's great run shouldn't have ended this way

It did not have to end this way.

It should not have ended this way.

The most successful manager in Phillies history, the man that brought tears to fans’ eyes when he shouted, “Hey, this is for Philadelphia! This is for our fans!” back on that magical night in October 2008, was fired Friday (see story).

Charlie Manuel is out.

Ryne Sandberg is in.

And it didn’t have to happen this way.

Let’s make something clear here: This day had been brewing since March 2011 when Manuel signed a two-year contract extension with a year to go on his existing deal. On that day, all parties -- from the front office to Manuel -- acknowledged that there would be no talk of another contract until this one was finished. Manuel even made a point to say he’d be close to 70 when the deal was up and he’d take stock of himself and his life at that time before deciding how he’d proceed in his career.

From this seat, that always seemed to be tacit acknowledgment by Manuel that he’d move on after the 2013 season and hand off, head high, to a younger man as the organization changed course.

This spring, Manuel made some noise about wanting to manage beyond this season, but that was probably just the proud, tough guy in him talking. Manuel never took kindly to suggestions that he was weak, so whenever questions about his lame-duck status came up, he handled them by digging in and defending his record instead of shrugging and saying, “We’ll see what happens.”

That’s just Charlie.

But deep down inside, Manuel knew he was not going to manage beyond this season. He’s a smart baseball man and knows organizations have to occasionally churn the mix and it was going to be his turn in October -- unless this aging team somehow pulled off another World Series title. He knew his expiration date had been stamped the day he signed his extension. And he knew it more than ever in recent weeks when the losses piled up and the writing on the wall was in big, bold letters.

Manuel meant it, meant it from the bottom of his surgically-repaired heart, that night when he said, “Hey, this is for Philadelphia! This is for our fans!” On the best night of his professional life, he dedicated it all to the fans, the real lifeblood of an organization because it is from them that all revenues spring in this business called baseball.

Manuel handled his firing with class Wednesday. He said he was mad not because the front office had given him a leaky bullpen and failed to upgrade it at mid-season, but because he lost his nine-year hold on the best seat in the house. Manuel didn’t just watch the rebirth of a dormant franchise from that seat, he, along with others, many others, helped lead it. Five division titles. Two National League championships. A World Series title. Immeasurable red-pinstriped good will spread while shopping at Wegman’s or eating breakfast at Ponzio’s -- hey, this guy said it himself, he’s a "peoples person." For all these reasons, Charlie Manuel deserves better than this.

He deserved to finish this road-to-nowhere season, tip his cap and head off to wherever he chooses, another team, a front-office adviser’s position, retirement. He didn’t deserve having the word “fired” attached to his name. (Though he has been offered a position with the franchise, he was fired as manager and he made that quite clear Friday.)

Manuel deserved better than this, but he didn’t get it because, in the irony of ironies, his players let him down. A number of them, not all of them, but enough to make a difference, have mailed it in for the past month. And why is that ironic? Because Manuel was just about the best players’ manager there is.

Why now?

Why not let his contract run out?

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that once he decided Manuel wouldn’t be back in 2014 he didn’t think it would be fair on Manuel to wait. He mentioned that he wanted some time to evaluate Sandberg, the interim skipper.

Here’s the real reason they did it now:

“Because we sucked,” one player said.

Yeah, the Phillies have been beset by injuries, and, yeah, they have a bullpen made up mostly of guys that have been at Triple A this season.

But is this really a 5-19 club?

That’s what the record was since the All-Star break entering Friday night’s game.

This team is not good. But it’s not that bad either.

Some of the players on this team never came back from the All-Star break. Some of them stayed on vacation. Sandberg indicated that when he said his first order of business would be to “remind” the players that they are “major leaguers” and every game is “meaningful.” Pressed on that point, Sandberg admitted he’d seen “lackadaisical” play recently. Cole Hamels, who has pitched brilliantly since the All-Star break, concurred with Sandberg.

“It’s true,” he said. “I’m as guilty as anybody else. We really have to focus a lot more on what we have to do out on the field because we have to do it the right way. Charlie preached it, but we weren’t doing it.”

Does that comment suggest that the players were tuning out Manuel? Sure it does. But a pro doesn’t need to be reminded to show some pride in how he plays. A pro should be embarrassed by a run like the Phillies have had. A pro, or group of pros, should have found it within himself/themselves to turn things around so that at the very least the manager who always had their backs could have exited gracefully at the end of the season and without the word “fired” next to his name.

Sandberg has work to do in the clubhouse. It is not a happy place. Aside from a pocket of young guys with eager eyes and hopeful futures, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of togetherness. There is finger pointing. The fun is gone. That’s understandable because losing is not fun. The lack of togetherness is also somewhat understandable considering that Jonathan Papelbon recently indicated that he did not come here for this. Those comments did not sit well with a number of players who wondered, whatever happened to We’re all in this together? In this summer when we pray for Darren Daulton, a man who led a great Phillies team with those words, that concept seems to have escaped the team’s closer. The clubhouse has been a dour place ever since Papelbon’s self-serving comments and the clubhouse, as they say, leads to the playing field.

On the day he spoke out, Papelbon suggested changes were needed from top to bottom.

The Phillies made one at the top Friday.

It did not have to end this way.

It should not have ended this way.

Hey, Charlie Manuel, this thumbs-up is for you!

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

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Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci, who it seems like has been in the organization forever, was promoted Thursday from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Tocci, who turns 22 on Aug. 23, has been in the Phillies' organization since he was 16 years old. He's taken some pretty big steps forward offensively the last three seasons as he's gained muscle and experience, and this season he's hit a career-best .307/.362/.398 in 474 plate appearances.

Recent promotions to the majors of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Cameron Perkins have created openings in the Lehigh Valley lineup. Tocci will likely play center field, where he's committed just one error in 801⅓ innings this season.

Tocci will likely be added to the Phillies' 40-man roster this winter to prevent another team from plucking him away in December's Rule 5 draft. The Phils may have to make a decision between Tocci and oft-injured Roman Quinn (see story), though there are several other replaceable players on the 40.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

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Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

Phillies (43-75) at Giants (48-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a rather pathetic series in San Diego, the Phillies move on to San Francisco for their final non-NL East road series of the season.

The Giants have had an unbelievably disappointing season, getting very little from key pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Mark Melancon and key hitters like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence.

On most nights, the Giants struggle to score. This is shaping up to be another one of them.

1. Nola night
Aaron Nola's starts have become must-watches over the last two months. He's on a historic run of 10 straight starts with at least six innings pitched and two or fewer runs. 

It's the longest streak in Phillies history, and it's a longer streak than the following pitchers have ever had: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Max Scherzer, and countless others.

This is a great matchup for Nola. On top of the Giants' offensive futility, AT&T Park is just an extremely difficult place to hit home runs. There have been just 82 homers hit there this season, which is 23 fewer than any other park and 70 fewer than the league average.

Nola (9-7, 3.02) has faced the Giants only once, last June when he was in the midst of a rough summer. Buster Posey, Denard Span, Crawford and Jarrett Parker went a combined 5 for 9 off of him, but Nola is a much different pitcher these days.

2. Outfield help wanted
The Phillies are in a precarious position heading into San Francisco. They don't know whether Odubel Herrera (hamstring) will be available to start this weekend, and Aaron Altherr remains on the DL with a hamstring injury of his own.

AT&T Park is the most difficult outfield to defend in all of baseball. It's 404 feet to left-center field and 421 feet to right-center. A centerfielder must have above-average range to succeed there.

In right field, there's the high brick wall that a rightfielder must learn. If a ball hits high off the wall and caroms past the rightfielder, it's an inside-the-park home run waiting to happen.

The Phillies cannot expect to play Rhys Hoskins in left field and Hyun Soo Kim in right field and get away with it in this series. Look for them to help Nola out tonight by putting a more experienced outfielder like Cameron Perkins in one of the corners, even though his bat is a liability.

3. Shark attack
The Phillies tonight face 6-foot-5 veteran right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who's having an interesting season. Samardzija is 7-12 with a 4.74 ERA, but he also has 160 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 155⅔ innings. Roy Halladay had only one season with a better K/BB ratio.

The issue usually with Samardzija is that he throws a lot of hittable pitches early in counts because he hates falling behind hitters. Two seasons ago, he allowed the most hits, earned runs and home runs in the league. And yet he's still regarded as a very good pitcher because on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he can be tough to solve.

Samardzija, like pretty much any pitcher who goes to San Fran, has been much better at home than on the road. He has a 4.35 ERA at AT&T Park and has allowed 0.79 home runs per nine innings. On the road, he has a 5.05 ERA and has allowed 1.65 home runs per nine.

Samardzija has faced the Phillies 10 times in his career but his numbers (26 runs in 27 innings) are immaterial because no current Phillie has ever faced him.

Samardzija has six different pitches: sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, curveball, cutter and splitter. His sinker and fastball average about 95 mph. A right-handed hitter rarely knows what's coming on the first pitch — Samardzija has thrown four different pitches at least 17 percent of the time on the first pitch.

4. Nothing from the corners
Any major-league team needs offense from first base and third base. That has been true as long as this game has been around. They're both premium offensive positions where you typically see a power hitter.

The Phillies have gotten so little this season, especially lately, from their corner infielders. Maikel Franco is hitting .223 and his .276 on-base percentage and is 70th out of 71 National League players. (Only Brandon Crawford is worse.)

In August, Franco has hit .186 with one home run and zero walks. Franco has 17 home runs, but it seems like everyone in the majors has 17 home runs this season. There are 89 players with more home runs than Franco this year, so the 17 homers are little solace.

Tommy Joseph is hitting .102 in 49 at-bats since Aug. 2. Combined, the two of them have two home runs in their last 190 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• I dug up a depressing stat Wednesday on the Phillies' struggles this season against bad starting pitchers. Clayton Richard, Brandon Finnegan, Martin Perez, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, J.C. Ramirez, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Tim Adleman, Patrick Corbin and Ricky Nolasco have a 0.93 ERA vs. the Phils this season. They have a collective 5.22 ERA against the rest of baseball.

• The Giants' disastrous season hasn't affected Posey, who is having another dynamic season, hitting .316/.406/.473 with his typically elite defense.

• The Phillies' 6-20 record against the NL West is the worst record by any major-league team against any division this season.

• After sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A after his start Wednesday, the Phillies called up shortstop Pedro Florimon. Florimon, 30, will be available off the Phillies' bench tonight.