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Victory tinged with pain of personal loss

Victory tinged with pain of personal loss

PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps more than anything, regardless of how these playoffs turn out, Phillies third baseman Greg Dobbs will remember Friday's game for an otherwise silent moment in the fifth inning. It was then that Dobbs looked up from his seat on the dugout bench to see his manager, Charlie Manuel, pacing back and forth, back and forth, no expression on his face.

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Outside, the Citizens Bank Park roared, screaming their approval for the hometown Phillies. But inside, Manuel's mind swirled through thoughts unknown.

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"I just thought to myself, 'I can't imagine what he's thinking right now, what he's going through,'" Dobbs said.

Manuel lost his mother, June, earlier in the day, then headed to the ballpark for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. Certainly, he struggled to focus on baseball as the Phillies blew past the Dodgers, 8-5, to advance one step closer to the World Series. But perhaps more significant was the fact that his players struggled nearly as much.

"When one person hurts, we all hurt," Dobbs said.

"We're all behind him, just as much as he's behind us," starter Brett Myers added.

"It's been a tough day around here, but you know what?" outfielder Shane Victorino said. "It's about baseball. Charlie stayed strong. He kept us all strong."

Victorino needed strength more than most. Not long after making a game-saving catch on Casey Blake's potential three-run homer in the seventh inning, Victorino, standing in the basement tunnels of Citizens Bank Park, encountered his father.

There, the elder Victorino informed him that his grandmother, Irene, had passed away earlier in the day, and that he withheld the news so that it wouldn't affect his play. But Victorino, fighting back tears after the game, hinted that perhaps it had.

"Maybe she helped me make the catch," Victorino said, referring to his leaping catch at the wall in the seventh inning. "Maybe Charlie's mom helped me make the catch. You just have to look at the positives in life."

That's what the Phillies did after Game 2, most of them saying that they only thing they could do for their manager was win. And those weren't empty words. One of the more notable players' managers in baseball, Manuel has always been beloved by the men he leads -- which was perhaps why he chose to show up to the ballpark Friday.

Though he could have stayed home and mourned -- and in any other industry, he likely would have -- Manuel chose to manage. He didn't stick around to talk to the media after the game, but his actions alone spoke volumes about the relationship between him and his team.

"Charlie's such a great guy and such a good manager," said outfielder Jayson Werth, who gave Manuel a hug prior to the game. "He's such a good friend to all of us. It's definitely hard to hear. It's got to be tough. I couldn't imagine something like that on a day like today."

Most of the Phillies couldn't. Myers, for one, recalled once pitching a regular-season game after losing his grandfather. Hitting coach Milt Thompson remembered learning of his mother's death during Spring Training two years ago, and Victorino empathized with Manuel in new ways following Friday's game. But for most of the Phillies, words proved hollow as they tried to describe their emotions. In the context of such a critical baseball game, none of them had endured a loss so significant.

The world of sports has produced a few similar examples, from golf's Tiger Woods, who won the 2006 British Open only two months after losing his father, to basketball's Michael Jordan, who led the Bulls to the 1996 NBA championship after his own father had passed away. An emotional Brett Favre threw four touchdown passes in a Monday Night Football game in 2003 only one day after his father died, and countless other athletes, without such headlines, have played through unknown grief.

In baseball, former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner's mother passed away during the 1979 World Series, though he still showed up to the park and won. Former Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill played in the 1999 World Series only hours after learning that his father had died. And three years earlier, Joe Torre, now the Dodgers manager, managed the Yankees to a World Series victory the day after his brother, Frank, had undergone a successful heart transplant.

"It's a heavy heart," Torre said after Friday night's game. "Charlie was telling me how he talked to his mom and has been talking to her on a regular basis, and her concern for him was only to go out there and win ballgames. It sometimes gives you a place to hide where you're so busy, that it's going to be a lot easier. It was a lot easier probably during the game than it is now, when he goes home."

And that notion that baseball could provide a welcome distraction was a popular one.

"I would think that the couple of hours during the game were probably a little bit of a chance for him to get away from reality," former Phillies and current Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "But our feelings are certainly with him."

Still, Dobbs said he couldn't imagine Manuel's perspective of nearly 50,000 screaming fans, as he paced in the dugout with his head already throbbing. Thompson forced a smile when he recalled how often Manuel used to talk about his mother. And Victorino, after speaking a few short words of tribute to his grandmother, asked to discuss only baseball. For him, too, Friday's game was therapy for a most bittersweet evening.

"It's something that's bigger than baseball," first baseman Ryan Howard said. "But to go out and do what we did on the field as a team, I guess it makes it a little bit better."

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

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{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }