PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies tried bamboo.
But bamboo never talked hitting with Ted Williams.
So now the Phillies, in search of a hot streak to help end their eight-year playoff drought, have turned to Charlie Manuel.
Philadelphia fired John Mallee as the team’s hitting coach Tuesday, and Manuel took the job over Wednesday.
What happened that night was one of those ballpark experiences where you have to blink twice because you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing.
The Phillies pounded 13 hits.
They scored 11 runs
Bryce Harper hit two home runs.
J.T. Realmuto blasted a grand slam.
The Citizens Bank Park crowd shouted “Charlie, Charlie” after each big hit. When’s the last time the fans in any ballpark chanted the name of a coach?
The Phillies won a laugher over the Chicago Cubs 11-1.
After his second home run, Harper walked over to Manuel and handed him a cup of water in the Phillies’ dugout.
“He was working so hard and everybody was cheering his name,” Harper said with a smile. “I think Charlie’s never seen a homer he didn’t like. It’s fun to have him.”
The Phillies (62-58) began Thursday in contention for a National League wild-card spot.
That’s despite ranking near the bottom of the NL in every offensive category.
Manuel loves hitting. On Wednesday, Manuel told reporters that he wasn’t as good a hitter as Williams, who’s the last man to hit .400 in a season. But Manuel quickly added that he could talk about and teach hitting as well as the deceased Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer.
Still, It’s silly to think that in just a few hours Manuel was able to revitalize the Phillies’ bats.
And it remains to be seen whether Philadelphia will sustain Wednesday’s success, or it will be just a blip on the screen similar to the mini hot streak the Phillies experienced in June after reserve infielder Brad Miller purchased a couple of bamboo plants and spread them around the clubhouse.
But what Mallee’s firing and Manuel’s hiring might have done is shaken the Phillies up.
“We feel terrible for (Mallee),” Realmuto said. “Nobody on this clubhouse feels like it’s his fault. We take it personally as an offense. It’s our job to put up runs. We didn’t do that, and it cost a guy his job.”
Mallee’s firing sends a message that if the Phillies fail to perform, jobs will be lost. Until this week, the only person to pay a price for the Phillies’ lack of success was third baseman Maikel Franco, who was demoted to triple-A earlier this month.
It’s hard to imagine that every Phillies player and coach and even manager Gabe Kapler didn’t re-evaluate themselves after Mallee was dismissed.
The hiring of Manuel, who managed the Phillies to five straight division titles from 2007-11 and the 2008 World Series championship, was an unconventional move.
Leo Durocher managed the Brooklyn Dodgers to the NL pennant in 1941 and then coached for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1961-64. Yogi Berra managed the New York Yankees to the 1964 AL pennant and then returned to coach the Yankees in 1976.
But Berra and Durocher both worked for other teams between their managing and coaching stints. Manuel never left the Phillies.
He served as special adviser to the front office after the Phillies fired him in August, 2013.
There’s a reason why former successful managers are rarely hired as coaches by the team they led to glory. What current manager wants a former pennant-winning manager and local hero looking over his shoulder?
Kapler is in this no-win position now.
He’s said all the right things about Manuel.
“Charlie has earned that kind of adulation over a long period of time,” Kapler said Wednesday when asked about the fans chanting Manuel’s name. “He believes in our hitters.”
Fans and media have speculated that Manuel’s hiring means the eventual end of Kapler’s time as manager.
I don’t see it that way.
Kapler’s fate is tied to the Phillies’ offense and Manuel.
If the Phillies hit and make the postseason, Kapler will probably return as manager.
If they don’t, his job is in question.
Manuel is 75. He’s a short-term solution. Both he and the Phillies have made it clear he’s only the hitting coach through the end of the season. Manuel said he doesn’t want to manage again.
There’s no reason why the analytics-loving Kapler and the old-school Manuel can’t coexist like the odd-ball duos that seem to be at the heart of every successful television situation comedy and drama.
Let’s call the Kapler-Manuel show “Hittin’ Season.” It’s up to the Phillies’ bats whether it runs until October or gets canceled in the next few weeks.