Lidge walks tightrope, but escapes jam
Closer leaves tying run on in ninth, secures win for Hamels
PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps it wasn't entirely foreign territory, but it was disconcerting nonetheless. Brad Lidge, king of the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park, was firing slider after slider in the dirt, and the Brewers weren't chasing. And once Lidge proved that he couldn't consistently throw that slider for strikes, the Brewers nearly stopped swinging altogether.
Prince Fielder, king of the home run in Milwaukee, stepped to the plate next, and Lidge tried something different, pumping two fastballs by him. Then he tried four consecutive sliders, but Fielder ignored both balls and fouled off both strikes. So Lidge, knowing full well that Fielder represented the tying run, reached back for one last fastball.
"His talent prevails," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, explaining the finer points of the strikeout that ensued. "He's a strikeout pitcher, and he stays there and gets it done. One of these days, yeah, he'll lose a game, probably. But at the same time he might go a long time before he does."
For the Phillies, this wasn't an opportune time for someone to crack Brad Lidge. Yet in Game 1 of the best-of-5 National League Division Series, shortly after Cole Hamels had just completed perhaps the finest pitching performance of his life, the Brewers threatened to do precisely that. Nearly snapping his streak of 44 consecutive saves -- 41 of them this year -- Lidge allowed two hits and a run before Fielder came to the plate as the potential tying run.
The Phillies, wary of putting that tying run on base, elected to attack Fielder. And seven pitches later, he remained at the plate, with Citizens Bank Park's towel-waving faithful growing restless. They waved, and Lidge wavered. And then he blew a high fastball by Fielder, before punching out Corey Hart to end the game.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to have to buy everybody some Pepto or something," Lidge joked. "Ease the heartburn a little bit."
He could joke, of course, because his Phillies had escaped with a 3-1 victory in Game 1.
"That's what a big closer is good at," Manuel said. "He can get in jams, but at the same time, he can wiggle out because he can strike people out."
Such reasoning was precisely why Manuel called on Lidge, his most productive reliever, rather than keep his starter in the game. Hamels might have given the Phillies a less stressful ninth inning, but Lidge had been perfect in save situations all season. That's got to count for something.
So Manuel turned to Lidge, and didn't seem particularly concerned about the trouble that ensued. More vexing was the fact that Lidge wound up throwing 35 pitches in all -- his most in a one-inning outing since May 11, 2006. Yet he managed to ease those worries, too, promising to be ready for use in Thursday's Game 2.
"I've never been a low pitch count guy," Lidge said. "If my arm was hurting, I'd be a little concerned, but I feel really good. If I have to throw a few extra pitches to make sure we get out of the inning, and everything works out, I have no problem doing that."
Nor do the Phillies -- save for a certain shortstop, who made sure to razz Lidge after one of his more harrowing ninth-inning performances in recent memory.
"You don't have to make it that interesting, Brad," Jimmy Rollins recalled telling Lidge after the game. "What happened to those guys who come out and go 1-2-3?"
Lidge explained that throughout his career, he had never been that type of pitcher.
"I was like, 'It's never too late too start,'" Rollins said.
And so the Brewers found the slightest crack in Lidge's armor, even if it wasn't enough for them to win the game. Their shortstop, J.J. Hardy explained that "you have to have confidence" to have a chance to beat Lidge. And the Brewers, if nothing else, have confidence.
Yet so does Lidge, and he also has results. In his first playoff appearance since 2005, the year that he served up a seemingly career-changing three-run homer to St. Louis' Albert Pujols while pitching for Houston in the NL Championship Series, Lidge managed to record the three outs he needed. He made adjustments, sticking to his fastball instead of his slider. And perhaps he, too, gained a bit of confidence. Lounging in front of his locker with a wrap around his right shoulder and elbow, Lidge kept shifting the conversation away from Game 1, and onto Game 2.
"I'll be definitely ready," Lidge said. "And hopefully, I'll be feeling real good."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.