Resurgent Lidge strengthens Phillies' bullpen

October 25, 2009 8:54:44 PM PDT
Brad Lidge was right in the middle of three celebrations this month, getting the last out when the Philadelphia Phillies clinched the division, advanced in the playoffs and won the pennant.

For a guy who temporarily lost his closer's job with a week left in the regular season, that's an impressive turnaround.

Lidge's resurgence came at a perfect time for the Phillies. The defending champions needed someone to step up in the bullpen during the postseason, and Lidge has done just that. He's 1-0 with three saves in as many tries and hasn't allowed a run in five appearances. The hard-throwing right-hander has given up just one hit in four innings.

That's more like the guy who capped a perfect season last year by striking out Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske for the final out of the World Series, setting off a wild celebration in Philadelphia.

PHILLIES FANS CENTRAL

Lidge was 48 for 48 in save opportunities last season, including seven in the playoffs. Without him, the Phillies probably wouldn't have won the division let alone the World Series.

But this year was a nightmare for Lidge. He led the majors with 11 blown saves and went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA. None of that matters now. Lidge is lights-out again, and the Phillies are heading back to the World Series. They'll play the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Angels, starting Wednesday.

"For me, obviously the regular season was not great, but the postseason starts a different type of season," Lidge said. "I feel very fortunate to be healthy, and I thank God I have the opportunity to get out there and be on this team."

Manager Charlie Manuel didn't commit to using Lidge exclusively as the closer when the playoffs started three weeks ago. But when he needed someone to preserve a 6-5 lead in Game 3 of the NL division series against Colorado, Manuel called on Lidge to pitch the ninth.

2009 WORLD SERIES INFORMATION

Lidge retired Rockies cleanup hitter Troy Tulowitzki with the tying run at second to secure that win. Less than 24 hours later, he struck out Tulowitzki with two runners on to finish out a 5-4 victory that sent the Phillies to the NL championship series.

Lidge pitched out of a jam to earn another save in an 8-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1, and he got his first win of the season in Game 4 when Jimmy Rollins hit a two-out, two-run double in the ninth.

"I think right now he's definitely more at ease, and he's more relaxed. He's having fun again," Manuel said. "He was perfect last year. I don't know how you can beat that. But at the same time, he's also human, and if you keep going out there, sooner or later I've got an old saying, that Louisville will find you. That's kind of how it goes."

Lidge's problems started early this season. He blew his first save on April 19 against the San Diego Padres, snapping a streak of 54 straight conversions, including playoffs. By the time he landed on the disabled list with a knee injury in early June, Lidge had six blown saves in 19 chances.

Lidge returned from the DL in late June and nailed down seven straight saves, but he regressed again. After his last blown save against Florida on Sept. 23, Lidge didn't pitch in a save situation until the playoffs.

2009 NATIONAL LEAGUE SERIES

Manuel, however, brought Lidge in for the final out against Houston at home in a 10-3 win that wrapped up the NL East title. An appreciative Lidge got a standing ovation when he came in and needed one pitch to finish the game.

"In the last week of the regular season as the postseason started, I started feeling I could really push off my backside and not even have to think about mechanics or what I'm doing out there physically and if I feel good," Lidge said. "And that leads to a lot of confidence because I know what I'm capable of when I'm feeling good.

"And then the other thing is that once the postseason rolls around, I think there's kind of a different level of focus, and fortunately for me so far it's worked out pretty good to where I feel pretty locked in. A couple things kind of happened at the right time, and you've just got to try and run with it."

With Lidge back in the closer's role, the Phillies' bullpen sets up nicely. Ryan Madson is most comfortable as the setup man. Chad Durbin and Chan Ho Park have pitched well in the sixth and seventh innings.

"The ideal situation is having (Lidge) in the ninth, just what he did last year and what he's done his whole career," Madson said. "He's a guy you can trust when the game is on the line, and that's what our team wants, and that's what our team needs in the ninth inning. We're all happy to have him back and put everybody back in our slots where they're comfortable. We're very fortunate to have him back throwing the ball well at this time."

The bullpen played a major role in helping the Phillies win the franchise's second championship last year. The relievers were 3-0 with a 1.79 ERA in the postseason, including 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in the World Series against Tampa Bay. So far, they're 4-1 with a 3.24 ERA this postseason.

"I feel like last year we were the best bullpen in baseball and I feel that way now," Lidge said. "Everything is coming together at the right time."

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