Charlie Manuel’s handling of the pitching staff in Game 4 backfires

Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel watches his team play the Cincinnati Reds in Game 3 of the MLB National League Division Series baseball playoffs in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 10, 2010. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

There were a plenty of Philly faith that wanted to see Roy Halladay take the mound in Game 4 of the NLCS, despite the fact that he would have been pitching on short rest. Instead, manager Charlie Manuel decided to hand the ball to Joe Blanton, who hadn’t started a game in over a month.

But even though the Giants beat the Phillies 6-5 in Game 4, the decision to start Blanton wasn’t Manuel’s costliest mistake on Wednesday night.

He’s no Halladay, Oswalt or Hamels, but Blanton is a fine starting pitcher who happens to have postseason experience. He’s not going to throw a perfect game, a no-hitter or even a shutout. But he’s more than serviceable and if you take a step back, you can understand Manuel’s thought process.

If Blanton limits the Giants to only a couple of runs..the offense eventually gets to rookie Madison Bumgarner…Phillies steal a win and then have Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels pitch on regular rest…everyone Wang Chung tonight.

And that’s exactly what happened. Sort of.

Blanton gave up one run in the first and one in the third, but the Phillies smacked Bumgarner around in the fifth and wound up taking a 4-2 lead. But after Blanton walked Andres Torres to start the bottom half of the sixth and Placido Polanco booted a routine grounder by Edgar Renteria at third, Torres was in scoring position with only one out (Polanco still got Renteria, also known as the slowest man on earth, out despite the error). Blanton then retired Freddy Sanchez on a line out to center, but Aubrey Huff singled to score Torres and cut the lead to, 4-3.

What happened next is where Manuel goofed.

Instead of allowing Blanton to finish the inning, Manuel pulled his starter after only 63 pitches and replaced him with Jose Contreras. The reliever then got Buster Posey (who had a monster night at the plate) to strike out swinging, which is what Manuel wanted, but it set in motion a series of events that eventually led to the Phillies’ demise.

In the bottom of the sixth, Manuel had to go to his bullpen again because he hit for Contreras in the top of the inning. Chad Durbin came in and promptly gave up the lead after throwing a neck-high fastball to Pablo Sandoval, who crushed the pitch into deep center to score two runs. Antonio Bastardo then relieved Durbin in the seventh, but Manuel again went to his bullpen that same inning as Ryan Madson came in for Bastardo after Posey doubled to right.

Madson persevered the 5-5 tie (the Phillies picked up a run on a Jayson Werth double to tie the game) through the 8th inning, but Manuel clearly wanted to save closer Brad Lidge for if/when the Phillies got the lead, so he went with Game 2 Roy Oswalt instead.

The move backfired, because the game never got to Lidge. Huff singled to right of Oswalt, then Posey moved Huff to third on a single down the right field line, then Juan Uribe hit a sac fly to win the game.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but had Manuel trusted Blanton earlier in the game like he trusted him to start over Halladay, maybe the Phillies would have held onto the lead and the series would be tied. It’s always easy to question a manager’s decision after the fact and you never know how the game would have played out had Halladay started or Blanton been left in. But as it sits right now, Manuel is a big reason why the Phillies find themselves in a deep 3-1 hole.

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