Manuel confident in 'Iron Men' relievers

Manuel confident in 'Iron Men' relievers

PHILADELPHIA -- The first key moment of the 2007 season happened on April 18, when manager Charlie Manuel casually announced a shift in the pitching staff.

"Brett Myers will go to the bullpen," Manuel said. "We think he'll have a chance to affect more games down there."

Myers, who had started Opening Day earlier that month, embraced becoming a late-inning reliever, whereas Jon Lieber loved returning to the starting rotation. Everyone was happy.

"Do you think I can get one of those bullpen carts to get me to mound?" Myers asked at the time. "That would be cool."

Talking about his new role, he added, "I'm not going to be selfish. If this is what it takes to get to the playoffs, this is what I'm going to do. If I can be a part of it, that's great."

When Tom Gordon was forced to go on the disabled list on May 2 with right shoulder inflammation, Myers became the closer after only eight relief appearances. He recorded his first save the next day with a perfect inning in a 9-7 win over San Francisco.

Myers was on his way. The excitable, tough-minded pitcher thrived in the role, converting 21 of 24 save chances and posting a 2.84 ERA as a reliever. Opponents hit .229 off him. And, without a need to save bullets, he racked up 64 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings.

After Myers comes two of Manuel's most trusted arms, in setup men Gordon and J.C. Romero. The trio is largely responsible for carrying the bullpen in the season's final month and leading the Phillies to the National League East title.

"Look at our team," Romero said. "We know if we can hold teams down, our offense will score runs. It's our job to shut teams down. It doesn't always work out the way you want, but we have done a great job when we've been healthy. I take it personally when someone scores. I've said this many times -- playoffs are won or lost because of a bullpen."

Romero, Gordon and Myers became Manuel's Iron Men in September, combining for 54 appearances. Romero led the way, with 20, and didn't allow a run in any of them, spanning 15 2/3 innings. Gordon's strength has returned after missing 10 1/2 weeks with the shoulder problem and a bout with pneumonia, and he posted a 1.32 ERA in his last 15 appearances.

Myers has a 3.00 ERA in his past 18 games.

"Our bullpen played up big," Manuel said, "I like the way it lines up. Once we get to the seventh inning with a lead, I feel good about us winning the game."

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From Sept. 14-22, the Myers-Gordon-Romero trio appeared in eight of nine games, and Romero went nine of 10. Though the bullpen as a whole has gone 28-23 with a 4.41 ERA, it's been a huge reason why Philadelphia is still playing.

"A bullpen can win games for many reasons," Geary said. "You may have a starter knocked out early and you have to hold down the fort while the offense scores some runs. Or you may have to hold a team off."

Geary and the rest of the corps feel they can do either.

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