Manuel 'mad' after watching Nationals clinch
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WASHINGTON – For the past five seasons, the Phillies won the National League East. They were the ones who celebrated while some other team was essentially tortured and forced to watch the Fightins enjoy the attendant pomp of such an achievement.
On Monday night, the Phillies were in danger of having that experience flipped upside down. They’ve known for a while that their protracted streak of division titles would end. And after a nice – but ultimately not good enough – run in September, they realized that they also wouldn’t appear in the postseason this year.
And so they went down to D.C. to play the final series of the season – three games against the Washington Nationals, who have been perched atop the NL East almost all year long, like some strange gargoyle that was unexpectedly added to the top of a previously beautiful building.
The Nationals blew their opportunity to clinch the NL East when they lost to the Cardinals in St. Louis on Sunday. They returned to Nationals Park with their magic number to claim the division stuck on one. A victory against the Phillies, or a loss by the Atlanta Braves, would make them the champs.
The Phillies beat the Nationals, 2-0, at Nationals Park on Monday, but Washington clinched the NL East anyway when the Braves lost to the Pirates (see Instant Replay)
While the Nationals – clad in division championship hats and T-shirts – stood on the field and addressed their fans following the game, Charlie Manuel sat in the visiting manager’s office. He didn’t look or sound happy. The Phillies won the game, but Manuel said, “We got beat” as reporters filed into the room and stood around his desk.
“It made me mad, yeah, yes it did,” Manuel said about the Nationals' claiming what the Phillies had owned for the last five years. “I’m a bad loser. Nobody should be a good loser. I’m a bad loser and I always will be.
“I’ve been mad for three or four weeks. It just hadn’t been coming out.”
Despite that, Manuel quickly conceded that the Nationals “had a good season” and “deserved to win.”
“They broke out early,” Manuel said, “and they stayed on top early, and they played solid baseball all year long. They did a good job.”
The surreal scene spoiled another solid outing from Kyle Kendrick, who pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed only four hits. The performance helped Kendrick (11-12, 3.90 ERA) finish with one of his best seasons as a major leaguer.
“Personally, I think it’s been a pretty good year for me,” Kendrick said. “Team-wise, we don’t want to be here. We want to be in a better position. Hopefully, we come out next spring and get ready to go and do something better next year.”
In the second inning, Darin Ruf recorded his first big-league triple, smashing a John Lannan pitch off the wall in left-center field to drive in Carlos Ruiz and Domonic Brown. Ruf has had at least one hit in all seven games he’s started this season.
“I like [Ruf],” Manuel said. “He’s got some pizzazz in his bat. He’s a hitter. He’s not ever going to be real fast, but if he hits like he did in the minor leagues, that will carry him. He’s hit in the minor leagues. He deserves a chance in the major leagues. That’s what getting a chance is – when you hit.”
Manuel talked for a little while about how the Phillies need to “regroup” and “play much better” and “play smarter.” They’ve done some of that in the second half of the season. In mid-July, the Phillies were 14 games under .500. With Monday’s victory, the team guaranteed it will finish with at least as many wins as losses. And with one more victory in their final two games, the Phillies would finish with a winning record for the season. Someone asked the manager if that was something to “hang your hat on.”
“The only thing we can hang our hat on is come back next season and win,” Manuel said.
As the media left his office, Manuel offered one final thought, a critical reminder to himself and everyone else that finishing with a winning record wouldn’t change the Phillies' situation much: “I don’t think we’re gonna get more than third [place in the NL East],” he said.