Lidge's errors, blown save sink Phillies
Closer struggles as Philadelphia falls to division foe
ATLANTA -- Everything was lined up for the Phillies to pull out another close win over the Braves at Turner Field on Saturday. Only this time, it was Atlanta which celebrated a thrilling win, thanks to a bizarre ninth inning.
Clinging to a one-run lead, Philadelphia brought in Brad Lidge to try to earn his second save in as many games. However, the Braves benefited from some sloppy Phillies defense and pulled out a come-from-behind 4-3 victory, rekindling their hopes of winning the series.
"We had a real good chance of winning the game, and we end up losing," said Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel. "Of course it's tough. We didn't make the plays, and we didn't execute when we had to."
"Today we were fortunate," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. "But we certainly deserved to win one of the past two games. We played hard and we played well. You need a win like that to get you back on track. Now we've got a chance to win the series tomorrow, and that's all we can ask for."
The bottom of the ninth started ominously for Lidge, who is in the midst of a season that can only be described as frustrating. Garret Anderson led off the inning with a sharply hit grounder to the left of second baseman Chase Utley. Utley played the ball off to his side, but it rolled past him into right field for a single.
When asked if the ball took a funny hop, Utley made no excuses.
"No, that's a play I should have made," he said.
"Right now, my stuff is as good as it's been in two years," Lidge said. "[Anderson's hit] wasn't hit well, but it found a hole. That's been happening. That's the way it's been going."
What followed was a play that in many ways serves as a prime example of how Lidge's year has gone. Matt Diaz put down a bunt to the third-base side of the mound. Lidge came off the hill, bobbled the ball slightly and then threw it wide of first baseman Ryan Howard into right field, allowing Anderson to score and tie the game at 3.
Lidge intentionally walked Adam LaRoche to set up the double play, and then he unintentionally walked pinch-hitter Greg Norton to load the bases. After Ryan Church struck out, Omar Infante snuck a grounder past the drawn-in infield between third and short to drive in Diaz and give the Braves the win in unlikely fashion.
"Obviously, I made a bad play," Lidge said of the play which was scored as two errors. "I bobbled the ball and tried to hurry the throw, and I threw it away. After the first hit, it was kind of do-or-die on every play after that."
It seemed as if the Phillies would use almost the same formula on Saturday as they did on Friday to earn the win. Jayson Werth hit a leadoff solo home run in the seventh to give them a 3-2 lead, after they came back from an early 2-0 deficit.
However, the Phillies also stranded six runners on base. That included Pedro Feliz, who reached third base with no outs in the fifth. In the end, those missed opportunities proved to be crucial.
"We had a few opportunities to score some more runs," Utley said. "We weren't able to capitalize."
Phillies starter Cole Hamels lasted six innings and issued four walks, but he held the Braves to three hits and just two runs. The only damage he sustained was a two-run home run from Brian McCann in the third that gave Atlanta an early 2-0 lead.
The Phillies got a run in the third on Howard's RBI groundout, and they tied the game in the fifth, when Raul Ibanez and Feliz hit a double and a triple, respectively.
Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami hung a 2-0 pitch that Werth smashed into almost the same section of seats as Howard's blast from Friday night. The home run tied his career highs of 24 dingers and 73 runs scored in a season. Werth set both marks last year.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, the story on Saturday again was Lidge, who has blown two of his past three save opportunities. What makes Lidge's lack of success in 2009 so frustrating is the fact that he and pitching coach Rich Dubee both think his stuff is as good as it has ever been.
"Some days you make good pitches and execute, and the ball might find a hole," Lidge said. "It's been a crazy year in terms of the breaks. I feel great. I'm confident I'll turn it around. Right now, I really want the ball. My velocity and stuff is as good as it's been, probably better than last year."
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.