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News » One perfect pitch sums up Series, season, success Phillies closer Lidge overcame battery of obstacles to reach mountaintop


One perfect pitch sums up Series, season, success Phillies closer Lidge overcame battery of obstacles to reach mountaintop


One perfect pitch sums up Series, season, success Phillies closer Lidge overcame battery of obstacles to reach mountaintop
One month later, Brad Lidge has seen only one of the 16 pitches he threw in the bottom of the ninth. When a snippet segues to ecstasy, why bother with the preliminaries?

Lidge cuts to the chase, picking up the action where he's protecting a one-run lead for the Philadelphia Phillies with the tying run on second base and one strike from ending the World Series.

"I haven't had a chance to watch the last inning," Lidge said. "It's nerve-racking enough doing it. I like to fast-forward to the last pitch."

It was a slider, the third in succession he threw to Tampa Bay pinch hitter Eric Hinske. The first two were strikes, "pretty good" sliders in Lidge's estimation, followed by "one of the best ones I can throw." Hinske didn't come close to making contact, putting a storybook finish on Lidge's memorable season.

"There's MVPs, there's Cy Young Awards," Lidge said, "but the greatest thing you can do in this game is if you're lucky enough to actually get the childhood dream where you're pitching in the bottom of the ninth in the World Series, one-run game, guy in scoring position and you strike out the last hitter."

Lidge sealed the Phillies' 4-3 win against Tampa Bay that ended the Series in five games. In a jubilant instant, he dropped to his knees, arms extended, triumphant and shouting in a Phillies freeze frame for the ages.

"He swung and missed, and I remember at first I jumped up," Lidge said. "Then I just remember feeling a second after that, 'Oh, my God, we just won the World Series.' And that's when I fell to my knees."

As catcher Carlos Ruiz rushed to the mound, Lidge can be seen mouthing the words, "Oh, my God."

Lidge has watched himself being taken out by beefy first baseman Ryan Howard, the next player to reach the mound. The next thing Lidge knows, he's at the bottom of a growing pile of Phillies, when it looks as if Geoff Jenkins has jumped back on top.

"All of a sudden, I felt like my knee did something weird," Lidge said. "So after about 5, 10 seconds at the bottom of the pile, I was like, 'All right, get up.' Like the joy was over, and my knee felt it was about to give."

Staying in the moment

Only the Series joy is a long ways from over. There will be a time when Lidge and the Phillies are faced with the challenge of an encore performance.

And that will be no small feat for the closer who in his first year with the Phillies went 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 72 games, 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season and 7-for-7 in the postseason.

"Next year, I know as soon as the season rolls around, we'll have high expectations of ourselves, and I hope we do it again," Lidge said, sitting at the kitchen table in his house in the Denver area. "But right now, we won the World Series, our son's coming and it's just a great feeling. I don't want to look ahead at all. I just want to be in this moment for a long time."

Lidge's wife, Lindsay, is due to deliver their second child next week. Their daughter turned 4 two weeks ago. It's a good time to be home, which is where Lidge plans to be until heading off to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., in February.

It could be a very busy offseason for Lidge. By design, it won't be. Dan Stephenson, the Phillies' manager of video production, asked Lidge to narrate their 2009 highlight film. He did it last month in a suburban Denver studio, reading a 14-page script and spending close to two hours.

"Even though my voice about ran out, it was fun to kind of rekindle the memories of the season while I was doing it," Lidge said.

Lidge said several sports memorabilia companies wanted to fly him to New York or Philadelphia for signings during the offseason. Those are trips Lidge declined.

"Obviously, they treat you nicely for that," Lidge said. "But I've told all of them, I'm not going anywhere. I'm back now for the winter and that's it. They have been kind enough to send the stuff out here."

Lidge got on an airplane Nov. 22 for what he expects to be the last time until he goes to spring training. After graduating from Cherry Creek High School in 1995, Lidge attended Notre Dame. He was honored there at halftime of the football game against Syracuse.

"For someone from Notre Dame, that's like going to Cooperstown," quipped catcher Brad Ausmus, who was Lidge's teammate in Houston for all or part of six seasons before the Astros traded Lidge to Philadelphia in November 2007.

Grace under pressure

Lidge became Houston's closer in June 2004, his second full season in the majors. He earned 29 saves that year, and in 942/3 innings set a National League record for strikeouts by a reliever (157). Lidge converted 42 of 46 save opportunities in 2005 but his struggles in the postseason that year forever changed his status in Houston. In 2006 and 2007, Lidge fell from grace under former Astros manager Phil Garner, closing at times but not automatically.

"You should video how he handled himself during his struggles and let rookie players watch how he carried himself and went about his business and how he answered all the questions and answered all the naysayers and the doubters and continued to do his job," Ausmus said.

Ausmus typically doesn't "get overly involved on a personal level" when watching another team in the postseason. He made an exception and said he "was kind of hanging on every pitch" with Lidge, right up until he struck out Hinske.

"I don't know that I could've been happier for a former teammate," Ausmus said. "He handled his struggles with such grace in Houston, and he's such a quality person."

Lidge, who turns 32 on Dec. 23, said he figured two things could happen with the Phillies. If he did well, Lidge said, his career would "be as good as ever." And if not, Lidge expected it would be difficult because the Phillies fans are notoriously harsh but still manageable.

"I think the first time you get booed in your hometown, which for me was in Houston in 2006, it is very difficult to take," said Lidge, who that season went 1-5 with a 5.28 ERA. "You don't want to hear those boos. It kind of messes with you a little bit. And I think after you get over that, I think all of a sudden, you become better, like a lot better if you don't let it ruin you because you can block out just about anything.

"I've kind of learned that booing is part of Baseball and I don't take it personally anymore. I think the first year I got booed in Houston, I did and that's what made that year difficult for me."

Despite building an immense reservoir of good will with Phillies fans, Lidge is under no illusions. He expects they'll boo him after a bad performance next season, knowing that's a comes-with-the- territory response in Philadelphia and by no means will he be unhappy about it.

"I wouldn't want the fans to change just because we won the World Series," Lidge said. "That's the reason it's great to win a World Series in Philadelphia . As ( Phillies shortstop) Jimmy Rollins says, they're not cupcake fans. I mean, you got to earn their respect there."

Year to remember

Had things gone poorly for Lidge in Philadelphia this year, he had a means of escape. Namely, he could have been a free agent after the season. That possibility happily vanished in early July when Lidge signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension.

By then, Lidge was churning out saves regularly, following a dreamy closer's path that would take him to the bottom of the ninth and Hinske batting.

"I went out there to talk to him about Hinske before he struck him out," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "I was just getting close to the dirt. I said, 'Did you ever face this guy?' He said, 'Yeah, I threw him a fastball once, and he waffled a double off of me.' I said, 'OK, let's start him off with a slider.' And he made three quality pitches, like he's capable of doing."

Dubee said Lidge smiled when he answered, something Dubee never had seen Lidge do on previous trips to the mound. For his part, Lidge was trying to defuse the gravity of the situation before facing Hinske.

"For whatever reason, I felt good about it," Lidge said. "I've been in situations like that a lot of times, maybe never quite like that, but I was trying to make it like a situation I'd been in a lot of times.

"You're out there trying to tell yourself, 'Hey, it's just another inning and just another hitter.' Sometimes, you can trick yourself so well you can say things like that, even though in the back of your mind you know that you get him out, you win the World Series."

A month later, the sweet aftertaste lingers for Lidge after Thanksgiving week. The grand succession of saves without a single misstep are something of a happy blur for Lidge, all part of a rush of exceptional events that formed a cheerful mosaic.

"I wasn't taking time to think about the streak or anything like that," Lidge said. "I was just enjoying what was happening. And now we're getting ready for our son, which will be the most incredible thing. This year, what can you say? This has been the most blessed year you could ever have."

INFOBOX 1

Coming full circle

In 1997, Brad Lidge was a student at Notre Dame and a member of the Irish's Baseball team. That fall, Lidge watched with a bit of awe when Craig Counsell was honored at halftime of a Notre Dame football game. Counsell, who went to Notre Dame and was drafted by the Rockies in 1992, was a member of the 1997 Florida Marlins , who won the World Series.

On Nov. 22, Lidge returned to South Bend, Ind., to be honored at halftime of the Notre Dame-Syracuse football game. He said the experience made him recall the ceremony for Counsell.

"They walked me out to the 50-yard line and presented me with a football jersey all framed with my name on it and number (54)," said Lidge, who also received a framed picture showing him leaping after striking out Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske to end the World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies .

Lidge said the public-address announcement congratulated him for being drafted 10 years ago out of Notre Dame and for returning as a World Series champion.

"It was a very nice ovation from the fans there, and it was a really good feeling to get that from the place you go to school. To be honored like that was a really cool feeling for me," Lidge said.

It's been a miserable year for coach Charlie Weis and the 6-6 Irish. They were clobbered Saturday at USC after being upset by Syracuse. When Lidge was honored, the Irish were leading 13-10. But Syracuse, which entered the game 2-8, scored a touchdown with 42 seconds left to win 24-23.

"Everyone was in a pretty good mood at halftime because we were still winning," Lidge said.

INFOBOX 2

Location, location

Brad Lidge faced 292 batters and allowed only two home runs in 691/3 innings last season and one in 351/3 innings at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

He gave up a grand slam to Atlanta's Brian McCann on July 25 in Philadelphia, giving the Braves a 6-0 lead in the ninth in what became a 7-2 win.

On Aug. 3 at St. Louis, Troy Glaus led off the ninth against Lidge with a homer that cut the Phillies' lead to 5-4, their final margin of victory.

Lidge said his control was better this year with his vaunted slider because, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Feb. 25, he concentrated on the location of that pitch as he was regaining velocity.

Previously, Lidge focused on throwing his slider as hard as he could.

"For the first time in my career, I'm throwing them in and out as I want to, getting ahead of the hitters, then throwing the hard one where I can let it rip," Lidge said. "By doing that, I eliminated a lot of the hanging sliders where you throw it too hard and it doesn't do anything.

"This year, I gave up two home runs on two fastballs. And I just felt like all year, the location on my slider was so much better and I was able to get guys out with it and use it more of like a changeup at times. I kind of varied it.

"My fastball location was there and I used my slider more because I had better control with it. So it really helped me a lot, actually, getting hurt."


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 3, 2008

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