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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Manuel phones it in for falling Phillies

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has mailed it in. Sounds like it to me, anyway. He's stopped thinking, stopped scrapping, stopped managing. He doesn't have a variety of tools at his disposal -- the Phillies offense was put together like a beer-league softball team, and at the moment it keeps falling on its rear end -- but he's not even trying.

Let me tell you what Manuel said after the Phillies lost 3-0 to San Francisco on Tuesday to fall behind 2-1 in the National League Championship Series. First, let me tell you the question, because the question is everything. The question -- and it was a good question -- was about struggling Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez, who's 38 and looks older than Jamie Moyer. Ibanez is in an 0-for-15 slump, with six strikeouts and a double-play groundout that ended Game 3, and someone in the media wanted to know if Manuel had plans of sitting Ibanez, who bats left-handed, Wednesday in Game 4 against Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner.

And this is what Manuel said:

"I'll think about all that," Manuel said. "But at the same time, it's getting kind of late to be trying to make moves, isn't it?"

Oh.

My.

Lord.

Maybe I'm not interpreting it right, because from here, it sounds to me like the manager of the Phillies has stopped managing the Phillies. He has his lineup, and dammit, that's all there is to say about that.

For the record, Manuel also was asked about his Game 4 starter, Joe Blanton, who had a 4.82 ERA this season and who hasn't pitched in 17 days -- and who was lit up for four hits and two runs in one inning that day by the Braves. Blanton's last start was a good one, seven innings with just three hits and an unearned run allowed to Washington, but that was Sept. 29. That was more than three weeks ago.

Is Blanton really who the Phillies are starting in Game 4?

"Yeah," Manuel said. "He's starting. Yeah, he'll be pitching tomorrow. Yes."

Twice more Manuel was asked if he was serious -- really, come on now, you serious? -- about starting Blanton in Game 4, when Roy Halladay would be available on three day's rest. The second time he was asked about it, Manuel was asked if the loss in Game 3, and the 2-1 NLCS deficit, caused any "discussion" about starting someone other than Blanton in Game 4.

"I didn't see any use in discussion," Manuel said. "Did you?"

Manuel got a blank stare in return.

"Whatever," Manuel said. "No. No discussion."

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So here's my theory: Maybe Charlie Manuel isn't as dumb as he sounds. Maybe he's a lot smarter than he sounds, because this story right here, the one you're reading, was going to torch the Phillies' veterans. I had things to say about Chase Utley and Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard. Raul Ibanez. Jimmy Rollins. Carlos Ruiz. Shane Victorino. All veterans, most of them with pennants and World Series rings and gaudy numbers on the backs of their baseball card. I had things to say about all of them.

But now, I'm writing about Charlie Manuel. And surely, after that display of white-flag-waving in his postgame press conference -- "It's getting kind of late to be trying to make moves, isn't it?" -- I'm not the only one writing today about Manuel.

The only way that quote makes sense is if Manuel said it to fling himself over the Phillies' hideous Game 3, as if that game were a grenade to be smothered. He was taking one for the team. He wasn't waving a white flag -- but a red one, the kind you wave in front of a pack of angry bulls to attract their attention.

Look at me, stupid cow that I am, writing about Manuel when I should be wondering what happened to Utley, whose clutch postseason from 2009 has been replaced by a choke in 2010. And I should be wondering about Werth, who has five strikeouts in three games. And Victorino, who was at his best Tuesday when he was getting hit by a pitch in the third and angrily flinging his bat to the ground, as if he had any chance of getting on base by swinging the stupid thing.

Victorino is a lot like Manuel. It's a little late for thinking, you know? Victorino doesn't know why the Phillies couldn't hit Giants starter Matt Cain on Tuesday, and he doesn't care. The same goes for the Phillies' disappearing offense, which has produced a .194 batting average, .312 slugging and .608 OPS this NLCS. Victorino doesn't know. Doesn't care.

"There's not enough time to analyze and sit back and reflect on what we haven't done," Victorino said, channeling his inner Charlie Manuel, albeit in a more intellectual way. "I have no idea what we're doing wrong, and I'm not going to sit back and worry about why we're not hitting."

That's Victorino. That's Manuel, too. In the back corner of the Phillies clubhouse, though, Utley had something else in mind. He said so with actions, not words, because Utley wasn't speaking to reporters. Not for the 20 minutes I was hanging around the clubhouse. Instead, Utley was the first Phillies player to sit down behind a laptop and study film of Game 3.

Utley wanted to know why he went 0 for 4 in Game 3 -- he's now 1 for 10 in the NLCS -- and why he couldn't stop Freddy Sanchez's blooping, spinning short-hopper that was initially ruled an error on Utley and then later changed, indefensibly, to an infield single. Whatever it was, it allowed Aaron Rowand to score from second base with the Giants' third and final run.

So there sat Utley, studying the film, rewinding and rewinding and rewinding. He wanted to know what went wrong.

Don't bother, Chase. Your manager and your leadoff hitter agree it's too late for thinking. And they're right.

Don't you think?


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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