There were so many little subplots behind the Phillies' magical journey to the 2008 World Series.
The team won 13 of its final 16 ballgames to win the division. That streak built momentum and set a tone for a magical October, where ...
Jimmy Rollins hit leadoff home runs on the road and every time you turned around, Shane Victorino seemed to be swatting another clutch extra-base hit. Pat Burrell and Brett Myers, both former first-round draft picks by the club, had some of their finest moments in red pinstripes. Matt Stairs stopped time with one swing. Kid Cole was spectacular and closer Brad Lidge, the entire bullpen, for that matter, was amazing.
All these years later, it's easy to forget that there was one other major subplot on the Phillies' road to the 2008 World Series.
Manager Charlie Manuel, beloved and respected by his players, lost his mother as the National League Championship Series was set to begin. June Manuel was 87.
In their last conversation, June Manuel told her oldest son, "Charles, I want you to win that World Series."
So, on the night of October 15, 2008, those weren't just champagne droplets in Charlie Manuel's eyes as he celebrated the Phillies' NLCS clincher at Dodger Stadium.
"I guarantee my mom is watching right now," he said after his club's 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 5.
The next day, he flew to his hometown, Buena Vista, Virginia, to bury his mom.
Manuel was 64 when the Phillies won that NL pennant, advanced to the World Series and won it all, raising the trophy and unforgettably saying, "Hey, this is for Philadelphia! This is for our fans!"
The fans loved it and they loved Charlie.
But it's easy to forget that it wasn't always that way. Manuel succeeded the very popular Larry Bowa as manager in the fall of 2005. The citizenry wanted Jim Leyland and howled in disapproval when general manager Ed Wade hired Manuel, who was frequently ripped and criticized during his first couple of seasons in Philadelphia.
On the subject of the negative reaction to his hiring, Manuel once told me: "I was aware of it. There's nothing I can do about it. I can take it. I'm pretty tough. That's OK if people want to hear my (Southern) accent and form a quick opinion of me. I'm the kind of guy who will sneak up on you. I tell the other managers all the time, 'Go easy on me.' But in the back of mind, I know I'm going to try to kick his [butt]. Sell me short, and I'll get you."
Wade was gone by the time the Phillies blossomed into a five-time division champ and World Series winner, but he had a huge hand in building the best of times in Phillies baseball and Manuel's hiring was one of his best moves. Even his successor, Hall of Famer executive Pat Gillick, acknowledged that. Gillick seriously considered letting Manuel go after the 2006 season. He decided against it and before stepping down after his three-year run as GM ended with a World Series title, said keeping Manuel was the best move he'd ever made in his long and storied career.
Manuel went from being kicked around like an old football in 2005 and 2006 to being embraced like a favorite uncle after the Phillies started winning in 2007.
Winning breeds acceptance and Charlie was accepted as a Philadelphian.
A beloved Philadelphian.
Truth is, it was always that way for his players. They loved him, trusted him, believed in him, believed he had their backs and went to post for him from Day 1. So, when Manuel lost his mom before that NLCS, there was only one thing the players wanted to do.
"We want to win this for Charlie," pitcher Brett Myers said before his Game 2 start.
One of Manuel's strengths was his great ability to take the pulse of his clubhouse, to get to know his players, earn their trust and learn what makes them tick. He could look into a player's eyes and know if that guy was up to the task or ready to fold. You can see this leadership quality Friday night when NBC Sports Philadelphia completes its re-airing of the 2008 NLCS with the Game 5 clincher. (The World Series comes next week.)
Fueled by another leadoff homer from Rollins, the Phils were up by four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and Cole Hamels was on the mound. The 24-year-old lefty was brilliant throughout that postseason but he was starting to bob and weave in that seventh inning at Dodger Stadium. Hamels issued a pair of two-out walks and the huge crowd was getting loud as dangerous Jeff Kent, the NL MVP in 2000, strode to the plate with a chance to be a game-changer.
Hamels was running out of gas as his pitch count was nearing 100. Manuel went to the mound. Usually when he made a trip to the mound it was to take the pitcher out. This time, he looked in Hamels' eyes, read his pitcher, and let the lefthander stay in the game. The young pitcher ran the count to 2-2 then rewarded his skipper's faith by striking out Kent looking at a 94-mph dart at the knees. It was Hamels' 104th and final — and best — pitch of the game. It was also the final at-bat of Kent's outstanding career.
The bullpen tandem of Ryan Madson and Lidge closed out the win with scoreless work in the eighth and ninth innings. For the NLCS, the Phillies' bullpen picked up 18⅔ innings and allowed just two runs.
As the final out settled into catcher Carlos Ruiz's mitt, Manuel remained in the dugout and received handshakes and hugs from his coaching staff.
He was going to the World Series.
But first, he had to go say good-bye to his mom.