10/20/09 5:24 PM ET
Manuel, Thome share 'Natural' bond
With Indians, skipper helped slugger refine power stroke
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
He spotted Jim Thome in the visitors' dugout at Citizens Bank Park as Rollins walked to the plate with Carlos Ruiz on first base and Eric Bruntlett on second base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Dodgers had a one-run lead with closer Jonathan Broxton on the mound. The Phillies had a shot, but the odds were against them.
But Manuel had a hunch, so when he caught Thome's eye he signaled toward right field that Rollins was going to get a hit.
"It wasn't like I was joking or kidding or nothing," Manuel said.
Manuel said Thome shook his head no, like, no that would not happen.
"I had a real good feeling," Manuel said.
Rollins delivered. He doubled to right-center field to score Bruntlett and Ruiz to win the game, 5-4, and give the Phillies a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. If the Phils beat the Dodgers in Game 5 on Wednesday night, they will secure their second consecutive trip to the Fall Classic as they try to become the first National League team to win consecutive World Series since the 1975-76 Reds.
So what did Thome think of Manuel calling Rollins' shot?
"I saw him messing around a little bit," Thome said during a workout Tuesday. "Been around him so long. He was saying he'd get a fastball down and he's going to whack it. I know what he's doing. I don't pay too much attention. That's his way of loosening himself up."
Thome and Manuel have known each other since Thome came up through the Indians' farm system and Manuel was managing in the Minors. Manuel famously helped Thome refine a swing that helped him hit 564 home runs, which could land him in the Hall of Fame.
The story goes that Manuel, while managing Cleveland's Triple-A team in Charlotte in 1993, saw a few players watching "The Natural" in the clubhouse in Scranton. Thome had been scuffling, and Manuel wanted to help.
"I had been working with Thome about loading up," Manuel said.
Manuel noticed Robert Redford, who played Roy Hobbs, held up his bat straight toward the pitcher before he brought it back into his hitting position. Manuel thought that would be a perfect way for Thome to load up before he got ready for the pitch.
"That's you," Manuel told Thome that day. "That's what you need."
Manuel said Thome hit a home run that night.
"From that day on, that's how he stood and that's how he loaded," Manuel said.
Thome didn't recall that conversation as vividly as Manuel, but he recalls the relationship the two had together in Cleveland and Philadelphia before the Phillies traded Thome to the White Sox after the 2005 season.
"The one thing we had that worked well is that I trusted him," Thome said. "Whatever he would say, I would try. It worked out. From that point on, I kind of kept doing it. It was good. It helped me relax and not get stiff. I think my preload, I didn't have a lot of rhythm. Charlie noticed that and said let's try this. And you know what? It worked.
"I probably wouldn't be here [without Manuel]. I've said this from Day 1. Charlie was a guy, not only for me, but he was a guy that personally backed up. When people didn't necessarily believe in our talents, he was a guy that took that extra mile to make sure that people supported us and rooted for us and gave us that opportunity.
"When we came up in Cleveland in the early '90s, we were young players and we needed to be taught how to play the game," Thome added. "And this guy was one of the guys that really, truly backed us."
Manuel still has Thome's back, but not Wednesday night. He wants to win and get back to the World Series, and Thome would like nothing more than to send the NLCS back to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Friday.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.