Charlie Manuel and Larry Bowa sit together at most games at Citizens Bank Park, a century of baseball experience between them. Manuel known as a hitting savant. Bowa, the gritty overachiever who all but willed himself to 2,191 big league hits.
The two former Phillies managers needle and kibitz. They exchange opinions and insights. They don’t always agree. But on one hot button issue they’re not only on the same page but the same paragraph and sentence as well.
Despite what has become an epic slump, despite all the predictable hand-wringing, Trea Turner is going to hit.
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Are they seeing this with their heart? Yeah, probably a little. But they’re also astute, experienced baseball men who aren’t going to get caught up in the hot take of the day.
Speaking of which, Friday night’s series opening 7-5 loss to the Royals had been unofficially dubbed Trea Turner Appreciation Day. Which is to say that sports talk radio station WIP had spent much of the previous 24 hours promoting the idea that the home fans should signal their support for the shortstop who rode into town on a winter wave of hoopla created by back-to-back All-Star selections, a Silver Slugger Award and a $300 million free agent contract. The gimmick got enough traction to be mentioned on the New York Post website on Friday.
The crowd of 36,510 did its part, greeting him with an extended standing ovation each time he came to the plate, chanting “Let’s go, Turner” at one point and even applauding after he lined out softly in the second.
So did Turner, who was batting eighth for the second straight game.
With two down and Bryson Stott on second in the bottom of the sixth, he drilled a single to right to drive in the run.
“It was pretty (bleeping) cool,” said Turner, who ended up going 1-for-4. “They had my back. They showed up for me. I don’t think ‘ease my mind’ is the right way to say it. But, like I said, I thought it was really cool. And I appreciated it for sure.
“It’s a humbling game, right? But keep going, keep working, keep doing all the things that got me here. And it’ll come back eventually.
“That third at bat was really good, I thought. That was my swing right there. That’s something I haven’t been able to do for a while, hit that fastball the other way. I’ve fouled that exact pitch off a thousand times this year. So for that swing to come out, I think, is a really good sign.”
Turner was aware that there was a campaign being waged on his behalf. His agent and his wife, Kristen, had both mentioned something about it to him.
“But I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I just want to play well. Nobody wants to get booed. Everybody wants to get cheered all the time. But that means you’re performing and playing well. Sometimes you need that tough love.
But I wasn’t really worried about that.”
Said Manuel: “I’m getting to know Turner more and more every day. And I think he still is going to be good for us. Believe me, I know he’s struggling right now. And everybody else knows he’s struggling. He don’t have but one way to go. And when he hits bottom, then he’ll start going up. I believe that.”
Big Chuck didn’t say exactly what he meant by rock bottom, but Turner started Friday night’s game against the Royals batting .083 (3-for-36) in his previous nine games. Which, for a .302 lifetime hitter coming into the season, is probably as good a definition as any.
Added Bowa: “Those (career) numbers don’t lie. It bothers him that he’s not doing good, but I don’t think the booing bothers him. I don’t think he’s ever had a stretch like this.”
He hasn’t, Turner admitted. “I’ve never played this bad,” he said. “I thought 2018 (.271 for the Nationals) was my worst year and I’d obviously take that year over this one any day of the week.”
Rob Thomson has consistently said he’s confident Turner will bounce back. Again, what else can he say? But based on Turner’s track record, he’s almost certainly right. Manuel was even more specific. He pointed out that Ted Williams batted .254 in 1959 and that Hank Aaron hit .279 in 1966. And those two Hall of Famers are considered among the greatest hitters in baseball history.
Said Manuel: “It’s hard to explain but, at the same time, he will get himself out of it. And you know who’s going to help him? The pitchers. They’ll look at him when they’re in trouble and they’ll think he’s hitting terrible or something like that and they’ll start throwing him more fastballs. But they’ll get him out of his hole.”
All three veteran baseball men, though, were diplomatic when asked if they believed positive reinforcement from the stands could help Turner at the plate.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt. I don’t know,” Bowa said with a shrug. “I know 20 years ago what would have happened. There would have been no standing ovations.”
Said Thomson: “I thought it was great and I thought it helped him a little bit.”
Manuel laughed. “If they give him a standing ovation and it helps, I’m going to say, yeah, it helped,” he grinned. “If they want to give him a standing ovation, that’s fine. But I think he’s mentally tough enough that he’ll dig himself out of it.”
Whether or not this is the start of a big turnaround or not remains to be seen. But there was one fan who found the while spectacle emotional: Turner’s mother.
“She said she cried in my first at bat,” he said.