Uncle Charlie (right) with Pat Gillick and Dave Montgomery hoisting the 2008 World Series trophy.

By Sam Bush

The Phillies have had an active off-season so far as newbie general manager Matt Klentak has wheeled and dealt the pitching staff on the path to respectability.

And as we prepare for Christmas and thoughts of spring training (it’s only two months away!), let’s leave it to the New York Daily News’ Andy Martino to engage former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in a discussion of Game 4 of the 2009 World Series:

I was the Phillies beat writer for the Inky, and Charlie was in the midst of what would become a legendary tenure with the club. Now 71, he won the World Series in Philadelphia in 2008, and took his team back to the Fall Classic the following year, losing to the Yankees. He is currently working as an adviser and scout for the Phillies, and spends his Opryland days hanging in the suite, offering wisdom when asked and strolling down to the lobby to chat, when inspired.

“What’s up, meat?” he asks, grinning, in his West Virginia drawl. This is a gently mocking nickname. Old-school baseball types call each other “meat” to denote manliness. Charlie’s mostly affectionate point is that I’m not exactly Andre the Giant.

“What’s up, meat?” I reply. There is an awkward pause, but it is brief, and cut by a mutual sentimentality that hangs in the air. As men often do to end a lull in the conversation, I bring up an old ballgame.

“Hey, I don’t know if I ever asked you who should have been covering third on that Johnny Damon play,” I say.

The Johnny Damon play, when the Yankee outfielder stole two bases on one pitch, was one of the most memorable in recent World Series history. It was the ninth inning of Game 4 in Philadelphia in 2009, tie game, Phils closer Brad Lidge on the mound. Lidge popped up Hideki Matsui, struck out Derek Jeter and had Damon at three balls and two strikes, before he singled to left.

Mark Teixeira, a switch-hitter, was up next, batting lefty against the righthanded Lidge. The Phillies defense shifted to the right side of the field, as is common against lefthanded hitters. That left third base uncovered.

On the first pitch to Teixeira, Damon took off for second, slid in safely, then stood and dashed to third. Phils’ third baseman Pedro Feliz, covering second because of the shift, ran behind him, unable to catch up. Damon later scored the go-ahead run on Alex Rodriguez’s double, and the Yanks went on to win. After the game and all through the winter, there was no shortage of opinions on which Phillie should have covered third: Feliz? Jimmy Rollins, the shortstop? Carlos Ruiz, the catcher?

“It was Felix,” Charlie says now, meaning Feliz, but falling into his endearing habit of mangling his players’ names. “The third baseman should’ve got over there. But that wasn’t the play that turned it. He would have scored anyway on the A-Rod double.”

We continue for a few minutes, forgetting about the news and rumors, luxuriating in the aspect of baseball that is most beautiful and pure.


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