Talking Him Off The Lidge

November 3

                All season long, through thick and thin — mostly thin — Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has stuck with Brad Lidge as his closer.  This despite the fact Lidge was a conflagration on the mound, with a major league-leading eleven blown saves and an ERA over 7.00.

                Lidge was Charlie Manuel’s guy in the Divisional Series and the NLCS, and he responded by not blowing a save.  Then came the 9th inning of Game 4 of the World Series.  Lidge was one pitch away from a 1-2-3 inning, setting it up for the meat of the order to win it for the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth.

                Suddenly, Lidge wasn’t Charlie’s guy.  Johnny Damon with an at-bat-for-the-ages, singling with two outs and two strikes.  Then the two stolen bases, the Alex Rodriguez double, the Posada two-run single, 7-4 Yankees, 3-1 Series lead. 

                 Lidge is a pinata if he has to rely on his fastball, and ARod tattooed one for the lead.  The Phillies apparently felt that with Damon at third base representing the go-ahead run, Lidge had to avoid throwing the nasty slider in the dirt.  ARod knew this and sat on the fastball.

                Carlos Ruiz is a very capable catcher.  Lidge should have gone after ARod with his best stuff and depended on Ruiz to block anything in the dirt.  Instead, Lidge walked off a loser and apparently his brain was so fried he couldn’t close Game 5.

                Ryan Madson, with one of the best changeups in the game but not a closer, made it through a shaky 9th, giving up one run for an 8-6 Phillies win and a trip back to New York.  Manuel is hoping Lidge will be in his right mind if he’s needed in Game 6.  That’s very likely considering Pedro Martinez won’t go all the way.

                As I pointed out in a previous blog, Lidge was going to be a huge question mark despite getting through the first two rounds relatively unscathed.  There is no comparison between Lidge and Mariano Rivera, and that’s one reason why I favored the Yankees.  The fact that Manuel didn’t go to Lidge with the season on the line last night is a big red flag.

               Lidge signed a three-year contract in July of 2008, so the Phillies probably won’t go in another direction.  However, their fortunes will ebb and flow with his performance.  Last year?  Perfection, and a ring.  This year?  Not quite, in all likelihood. 

                Unless their name is Rivera, closers are inconsistent by nature.  Only the best put together three or four consecutive good seasons.  It’s a high stress job that can fry a pitcher’s brain, or his arm.  Lidge is in the good-but-not-great category.

                 Of course, he’s no Armando Benitez.

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