Phillies feel like they let Charlie Manuel down

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Phillies feel like they let Charlie Manuel down

The Phillies were expected to contend in the NL East when the 2013 season began. However, the team has completely fallen apart since the All-Star break.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. took action on Friday afternoon, announcing that manager Charlie Manuel was relieved of his duties and that Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg will serve as Manuel’s replacement effective Friday night (see story).

Perhaps this is the wake-up call the Phils need to snap out of their current funk.

“I sure hope so,” second baseman Chase Utley said prior to Friday’s matchup with the Dodgers. “It obviously shows that we are not playing good baseball.

“We all know we haven’t been playing great. We’ve had some stretches. We’ve played OK, but lately we haven’t been getting the job done. Whatever it takes to get us to focus more.”

Utley first played for Manuel in the 2004 season, when Manuel was hired as the club’s 51st manager. Utley was 23 then, playing behind Placido Polanco at second base.

Utley would go on to take over full-time duties at second in June 2005, when Polanco was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He then established himself as one of the best-hitting second basemen in the National League, and he credits Manuel for that.

“Charlie is the man that gave me an opportunity to play,” Utley said. “I owe a lot to Charlie Manuel. … I think we are all a little upset and a little sad. It’s not a usual thing to see that guy you played for not behind the batting cage watching batting practice.”

Manuel, the winningest manager in team history, won 780 games with the Phillies and led the team to the 2008 World Series title.

Cole Hamels, who was the 2008 World Series MVP, said Manuel served as a father figure to all of his players.

“All of us grow up in a certain way,” Hamels said. “We leave home and we come from all different cities and I think Charlie was kind of like our father to a lot of us. He was a fatherly figure. He really enjoyed watching us have success.

“When we weren’t playing at our best, he always came around and encouraged us. He never had anything negative to say. He always wanted us to be the best we could.

“Knowing that and every good game I had, every bad game I had, he always came up to me no matter what and really told me ‘go get 'em and keep doing what you’re capable of doing.’ So that’s kind of what you want to hear sometimes -- not all the time -- but I’ll really take that and notch that away as a really good memory.”

Third baseman Michael Young, who is in his first season with the Phils, was disappointed his time with Manuel was cut short.

“It’s unfortunate any time someone you really enjoy playing for, enjoy being around, is no longer with you on a day-to-day basis,” Young said.

“For us as players, I know me personally, I loved playing for Charlie. I have a ton of respect for what he’s done in the game and for what he can bring to a baseball team. Going forward, I’m look forward to playing for Ryne now.”

Sandberg will take over a Phillies team that has gone 5-19 since the All-Star break. He spent the previous two seasons as manager of Triple A Leigh Valley before joining the Phils’ big club as third-base coach this past September.

Sandberg said Friday that the Phillies have shown signs of “lackadaisical play” as of late.

“I’m as guilty as everybody else is,” Hamels said. “We have to focus a lot more in what we have to do out on the field because we have to do it the right way. Charlie preached that but we just weren’t doing it. We’re as guilty as everybody. We have to be responsible for being out there and playing the game of baseball the Philly way and the way that we know how. We have to pull for each other to do so.”

When asked if the Phils’ poor play contributed to the firing of Manuel, Utley didn’t pull any punches.

“Charlie didn’t strike out,” Utley said. “Charlie didn’t make any errors. All Charlie did was come to the park everyday and ask us to win.”

So now Sandberg will have to find a way to reinvigorate the Phillies over the final 42 games of the season.

Replacing Manuel will be no easy task. Manuel helped the Phils to five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11 before the club took drastic steps back in 2012 and 2013.

“He (Charlie) said the game goes on, but that doesn’t make it any easier," Utley said.

Hamels feels the Phils let Manuel down and knows they have work to do moving forward with Sandberg at the helm.

“For a sense because of what he means to us and how he’s been around, yeah we let down not only him, but we let down the organization,” Hamels said. “We let down the fans, but ultimately we let each other down. That’s why we really have to get back up and discover who we are and what we are playing for and go out there and do it.”

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”