MIAMI Charlie Manuel is a man who doesnt like to look ahead. The Phillies manager is all about the present. Win todays game. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
But Manuel made a departure from his normal way of doing business in Friday nights historic 5-3 win over the Florida Marlins. Manuel was clearly looking at the seasons big picture when he let starting pitcher Roy Oswalt hit for himself with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning.
Oswalt was at 95 pitches, and he was not particularly sharp, after five innings. It would have been totally understandable if Manuel had called for a pinch-hitter. In fact, if it was a tie game, Manuel said he might have done that. And if his team was fighting for a playoff spot, Manuel said he might have done it, too.
But with a two-run lead in the game and a comfortable, 8 game lead on second-place Atlanta in the standings, Manuel kept Oswalt in the game. He did it because he knows the righthander is an important piece to the Phillies championship puzzle and needs reps to get back on track after a lengthy stay on the disabled list for a bad back.
If were tied with Atlanta, I probably would have gotten him, Manuel said. Im an offensive manager. But in that situation, I felt good having a two-run lead. I wanted to get him some work, get him some pitches. He needed to pitch more. We need to do that two or three more times and get him strong. We need him back pitching healthy like he was last year.
Oswalt figures to be the Phillies No. 4 starter in the postseason. Vance Worley, who has been sensational as the No. 5 starter, figures to become a bullpen wild card.
Oswalt struck out and left the bases loaded after Manuel let him hit in the sixth. But more importantly, in the big picture, he pitched into the seventh inning. He allowed eight hits and three runs, while walking one and striking out seven.
One of Manuels goals in the final month of the season after the Phillies clinch the division, of course -- is to get some of his players a little rest. That goes for his starting pitchers, too. But Manuel will walk a fine line with his starters as he wants to make sure they can still give him seven innings in the playoffs.
I look at our starters, he said. We need to get seven innings out of them.
Part of Manuels thinking in setting the bar at seven innings is he has just two relievers that he really trusts, Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson. They pitched the eighth and ninth innings Friday night. That will remain the blueprint into October.
Oswalt was not sharp early, but he got better as the game went on. His fastball sat in the low 90s and hit 93 on the stadium radar gun.
For the first three innings I felt like I was trying to throw from second base, Oswalt said. But after that I felt like I was on top of the hitter. I threw a lot of pitches early. I couldnt find my mechanics in the first three innings. I couldnt put the ball where I wanted to.
The win was historic because it propelled the Phillies to 42 games over .500 for the first time in team history.
The Phils have 88 wins and with 28 games remaining are on target to eclipse the franchise record of 101 wins.
With lefthander Brad Hand on the mound for the Marlins, Manuel used right-handed hitting John Mayberry Jr. in left field. Mayberry is clearly platooning with Raul Ibanez, though Manuel wont use the word. Mayberry was a major difference-maker in the game. He clubbed an 0-2 breaking ball for a two-run homer in the fifth inning to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead. The Phils built the lead to 4-2 in the sixth. Florida cut the lead to a run on Jose Lopez homer off Oswalt in the sixth.
The Marlins threatened in the seventh, but third baseman Placido Polanco made a terrific play and throw from his knees to take a hit away from Greg Dobbs and end the inning. If the ball had gotten through, dangerous Mike Stanton 31 homers, 79 RBIs would have come to the plate and who knows what would have happened.
That was the play of the game, Manuel said of Polancos work.
The Phils are 5-0 on this roadtrip. They look to keep the roll going behind Cole Hamels on Saturday night.