Hopelessly devoted to old Charlie

Forget Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera. If the Phillies manage to come back and win the 2009 World Series, the biggest hurdle they will have to clear is lovable old Charlie Manuel.

Irealize what a folk hero Charlie Manuel has become in Philadelphia. Just in the past few days, I have had to endure a portrait of Manuel on the front cover of one newspaper with the word “HOPE” emblazoned below it. In another paper, a headline writer actually used the word “genius” to describe the Phillies manager.

“Hopeless” and “clueless” would have been more accurate. Manuel is having a World Series so bad that the only people left to defend him are the blindly loyal or the painfully stupid. And making the situation even more unimaginable is Manuel’s sudden defiance. He actually believes he is beyond criticism.

Well, here’s the one sane voice left in this city to inform you that Manuel has made one major blunder after another in this World Series, placing the Phillies on the brink of elimination, instead of charting the route for another parade.

The trouble began in Game 2, when Manuel defied baseball convention and didn’t send his fastest two runners — Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino — with a 3-2 count on Chase Utley and one out in the eighth. The ensuing double play ended the last chance for the Phillies to launch a comeback in the 3-1 loss.

When Fox analyst Tim McCarver accurately pointed out how dumb Manuel’s decision was to hold his best baserunners, Manuel actually had the audacity to snap that he deserves better than to be questioned on decisions like that. Baloney. Smart baseball doesn’t require a doctorate degree. Manuel blew it.

Game 4 was worse because we saw it coming. I have been writing for two months that Manuel’s obsession with burned-out closer Brad Lidge would cost the Phils dearly in the playoffs, and it did. Along the way, the Phils also botched a two-base steal by Johnny Damon because no one covered third.

Manuel did everything he could to screw up Game 5, but Chase Utley’s two homers saved the season. This time, Manuel decided to replace his best outfielder because Victorino had sustained a hand injury — seven innings earlier. As a result, Raul Ibanez stayed in left field while Ben Francisco moved to center, and three runs ultimately scored because Ibanez couldn’t catch a drive that Francisco would have had for dinner.

Look, I’m a realist. I understand that Charlie Manuel will always be beloved here because he won a title. I even readily agree that he is masterful in managing the personalities in the clubhouse. But if you believe that he has performed logically in this World Series, then feel free to enjoy this last game or two.

You know what they say. Ignorance is bliss.

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