HOUSTON Charlie Manuel has been like the father of a perfect teenager this season. The kid does his homework, minds his manners, is always respectful, never gets in trouble. As a result dad never has to raise his voice and that blood pressure always stays an even 12080.
Now were going to see how the teenager reacts after dad got angry. Were going to see if dad can get the kid back on track after a rare slip-up.
Manuel had strong words for his team during a clubhouse meeting after it played another sloppy game in a 5-2 loss (see game breakdown) to the lowly Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
We had a little talk, Manuel admitted. Not a big talk.
Just be more alert and play the game how we can, he said.
Manuel was soft-selling the meeting. Word from the clubhouse was he rattled some cages pretty soundly.
Well see if his tongue-lashing prevents the Phils from suffering their first sweep of three of more games in over a year when they play the Astros, baseballs worst team, in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon. The Phils have lost the first two games by a combined score of 10-3. Overall, they have lost three in a row for the first time since early June.
Weve talked all year long about where we want to go, Manuel said. We want to get to the World Series and win it. Were sitting in a hell of a position, but when we come out and play sloppy and dont have a lot of life Even if we werent where we are with the best record in baseball Id feel the same way.
We need to bear down. We played a good game Sunday at Milwaukee. It was just a tough game. But the last two havent been real good. If you play right and hustle and dont win, thats OK. But mental mistakes and taking things for granted. We dont want to do that. Were better than that.
We could put a little more into it. Thats the bottom line.
Playing poorly against the Astros is nothing new for the Phillies. They were swept in a four-game series by the Astros in Sept. 2009 in Houston and August 23-26, 2010 in Philadelphia. That was the series in which Jayson Werth was picked off second base by a catchers throw. Manuel read his team the riot act after one of the games in that series. It responded by going 27-8 down the stretch.
These Phillies are a lot closer to the regular-season finish line than those Phillies. These Phillies have just 17 games remaining in the regular season. They are a cinch to win the division. Their magic number for doing so is five.
In the last two games, the Phillies have made miscues in the field and taken it on the chin from two of their former pitchers, Brett Myers and J.A. Happ, who were a combined 9-28 entering the series. The Phils are just 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position in two games against the Astros.
This team looks as if it needs a new challenge. But at this point the only real challenge will be October. This team is beyond all that rah-rah team-record victories stuff. (It needs eight more for a team-record 102). All that matters is 11 wins in October.
Until then, what might help give the team one final push is the electricity of Citizens Bank Park. The Phils lost two in a row in a dead ballpark against a dead team in Miami earlier this month then went home and swept Atlanta in front of big crowds. On Thursday, the Phils start a 10-game homestand at the Bank. They should clinch the division during the homestand, and that will make Manuel happy.
Cole Hamels was not sharp in Tuesday nights start. He allowed nine hits and five runs in five innings.
Afterward, he acknowledged that the Phils havent played with their usual zip against the lowly Astros.
Were human, he said. Its a grind. You just have to grind your way through it. Theyre playing with a lot of motivation and were not taking it as serious.
Charlie Manuel has spoken. He wants things to change. With Roy Halladay on the mound Wednesday, he might just get his wish.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com