09/06/09 12:20 AM ET
Lidge unable to close out a Phils win
Right-hander suffers 10th blown save of the season
By Michael Murphy / Special to MLB.com
Unfortunately, they couldn't get a lights-out performance from closer Brad Lidge.
The Philadelphia offense supplied more than enough punch on Saturday night against the Astros, but Lidge couldn't deliver the necessary outs, giving up a two-run single to Kaz Matsui that gave the Astros a 5-4 win before 35,195 fans at Minute Maid Park.
"Command issues," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel of Lidge's problems. "He had trouble getting the ball over the plate, and that's command issues. He got behind with the bases loaded and he had to try to throw something over the plate.
"Making [the opponent] hit the ball is better than a walk, but at the same time, if he gets a hit, then the game's over. That's what happened."
Lidge, who leads the Major Leagues with 10 blown saves, loaded the bases and recorded two outs before giving up the walk-off single.
"The control just wasn't there," said Lidge, who fell to 0-7 with a 7.15 ERA. "I fell behind on the count to a few guys because of it, and obviously when you're falling behind 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1, you're getting into good hitter's counts.
"It's tough for me, because I feel like [my slider] has come a long way, but it just wasn't there tonight."
The loss was tough to take on any level, but even tougher since it spoiled a solid performance at the plate by the Phillies, who were playing without Chase Utley, who was sidelined with a bruised right foot.
Philadelphia got things rolling on offense, but only after Houston starter Roy Oswalt was forced to leave the game in the seventh inning because of tightness in his lower back.
Oswalt, who tied his season high with eight strikeouts, left with a three-run lead and runners on first and second base.
But two pitchers and three pitches later, that lead was down to 3-2 and the Phillies had found their groove on offense.
"I didn't feel like we were in good shape until we started scoring some runs," said Manuel of seeing Oswalt leave the game. "But it looked like we were in good shape [after scoring]."
Trailing, 3-0, after Oswalt left, the Phillies broke out, getting a pinch-hit RBI single from Ben Francisco off Astros reliever Tim Byrdak that plated Raul Ibanez. Byrdak was promptly yanked, and Jeff Fulchino came in to face pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz slapped a single that scored Miguel Cairo and shaved the Astros' lead to one run.
Ryan Howard knotted the score at 3 in the eighth inning by slamming a triple to center field that drove in Jimmy Rollins, who led off the inning with a single. One out later, Pedro Feliz singled, bringing home Howard to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.
"We put some good at-bats together," said Phils starter Joe Blanton, who gave up three runs in six innings. "That's big. The pinch-hitters did a great job today. Everybody coming off the bench today pretty much did something to help us, and that's good to see."
However, Lidge's trouble in the ninth inning proved to be the difference.
After opening with a strikeout of Hunter Pence, Lidge seemed to lose control, loading the bases and then running up a 3-1 count on Matsui. The Houston second baseman then stroked a hit to right-center field that scored pinch-runner J.R. Towles and Jason Michaels for the win.
"What do I think of [Lidge's blown save]? I think it's baseball," Manuel said. "I think that's what you call command. I think that's what you call being able to throw the ball over the plate and put it where you want it.
"I think it's staying focused on what you're doing -- executing your pitches."
The Astros struck early, with Pence doing all of the damage.
Pence slammed his 22nd homer of the season, a two-run shot in the second inning that scored Miguel Tejada, and then ripped a two-out single up the middle that plated Lance Berkman for a 3-0 Houston lead in the third inning.
The Phillies managed to piece together a late rally, coming up with eight hits and all four runs in the seventh and eighth innings.
But Manuel wasn't taking any solace in the offensive production, which included 10 hits and a 3-for-9 effort with runners in scoring position.
"I think that when we do start to manufacture some runs and hit the ball, getting some hits and getting some runs, yeah, that changes the outlook of the game," Manuel said. "But, still, it's a tough one to lose."
Michael Murphy is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.