Manuel keeps Phils focused, relaxed

Manuel keeps Phils focused, relaxed

As the playoffs begin, MLB.com gives you a look at what drives the eight managers looking to guide their clubs to a World Series title.

PHILADELPHIA -- The jubilation was still in its infancy. Mere moments had passed since closer Brad Lidge's near takedown of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, after the Phillies' middle infielders rescued him with a thrilling National League East-clinching double play.

Players spilled onto the field from the dugout and bullpen, arms waving and leaping onto one another. Roars of 45,000-plus at Citizens Bank Park turned the game-ending moment into a large Philadelphia party that lasted two hours on Saturday night.

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In the corner of the home dugout, near the spot where a player can retreat down a tunnel to the clubhouse, manager Charlie Manuel sat alone. He smiled, but not too big. He watched proudly, but didn't participate.

He reacted, albeit internally.

"I just watched everything, the players, the coaches, the fans," Manuel said. "It felt good."

The gesture, whether by design or unintentional, was Manuel stepping aside and turning the spotlight on his players.

"They're the reason I'm a good manager," Manuel has said several times. "I've always done well because I've always had a lot of talented players."

Like any manager, Manuel overcame obstacles. His offense went to sleep for 10 weeks. Starting pitchers Brett Myers and Adam Eaton went to the Minors, with only Myers returning to contribute in the second half.

Prosperity never agreed with these Phillies, who gave up leads in the standings as quickly as they got them. The difference, though, is that Manuel never let them give up.

As laid back and easygoing as he appears, he speaks when necessary and keeps his team focused.

"He's quiet on a day-to-day basis," said Lidge, who saved all 41 of his chances. "He doesn't talk to talk. He doesn't talk unless something needs to be said. For me, he's said a couple of things just a couple of times, and those times, I really paid attention. I respect his opinion and he's not going to give it to you unless it matters. He'll let you know that he appreciates your effort."

Eight Men In

On any given day, he'll have players laughing as he relates stories or sayings that could only come from Virginia. If Manuel needs to make a serious point, he'll have that player nodding in approval.

"Everybody knows he's a great guy, but he's a pretty good manager," said reliever Scott Eyre, who noticed a difference from the more disciplined atmosphere of the similarly successful Lou Piniella. "[Manuel] sets a relaxed tone, and when you get out there, he wants you to work. When I got here, he said, 'Be on time and play hard. I don't have any other rules.' I said, 'OK.' I love playing for a guy like that."

In 2007, when the Phillies trailed the Mets by seven games with 17 games remaining, Manuel coolly predicted his team would win 13 of its final 17. It did. When the Phils fell behind the NL East-leading Mets by 3 1/2 games on Sept. 11 -- and four behind the Brewers in the Wild Card -- Manuel never wavered. From there, the Phils went 10-1 and took control of their own destiny.

"It seems like we do better that way," center fielder Shane Victorino said. "A lot of that is Charlie."

So here they are again. After near misses in his first two seasons as manager, the Phillies are headed to the playoffs for the second straight season for the first time since 1980-81. The 92 wins is their highest total since 1993, when they won 97. They won two straight division titles for the first time since taking three straight from 1976-78.

What remained of the 49th sellout crowd on Saturday began chanting "Char-lie, Char-lie" nearly an hour after the game. They wanted to thank the man they once mocked for his Southern drawl and never forgave for not being Jim Leyland.

That had to feel good, right?

"That could change tomorrow," Manuel said with a laugh.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.