10/05/09 10:00 PM ET
Phillies not giving up on Lidge
Struggling closer remains option in ninth inning
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
Lidge is the guy who went 48-for-48 in save opportunities last season and struck out Eric Hinske on an 0-2 slider to clinch the Phillies' first World Series championship in 28 years. But Lidge also is the guy who finished this season 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA and just 31 saves in 42 opportunities.
"I've heard people talk," Manuel said. "I've heard people say instead of using Brad, use somebody else. But who else out there would you want on the mound if you were going to win or lose a game? Who would you want? Take your pick. I always get back to Lidge."
The Phillies think they have the talent to become the first National League team since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds to win consecutive World Series championships.
But do they have the closer to help get them there? If the Phillies have a one-run lead Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park, who walks through the bullpen door to pitch the ninth? Lidge, whose Major League-leading 11 blown saves are tied for the third-highest in baseball since the beginning of the 1990 season, or Ryan Madson, who has a 4.70 ERA and 10 saves in 14 opportunities as the team's closer this year?
Does it matter?
Do the Phillies need to anoint a closer?
Manuel would prefer to have one. Relief pitchers also like to have roles.
The Boston Red Sox tried a closer by committee approach in 2003, but it didn't work and they spent big bucks in the offseason to sign Keith Foulke. But in that same 2003 season, Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon pulled Braden Looper from his closer's job with about a week to play for Ugueth Urbina. Despite the uncertainty in the Marlins bullpen, Florida won the World Series.
Jason Isringhausen blew 10 saves and went on the disabled list in September 2006. The Cardinals asked Adam Wainwright to close. He memorably struck out Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on St. Louis' way toward winning the World Series.
It can be done. Teams can win World Series with uncertainty in their bullpen.
But for every Urbina and Wainwright story, there are more stories like Lidge in 2008, Jonathon Papelbon in 2007, Foulke in 2004, Troy Percival in 2002 and Mariano Rivera in 1998-2000.
Lidge has thrown the ball better in his last two appearances. He threw a cut fastball for the first time this season Saturday against the Marlins, which he hopes could help him against left-handed hitters.
"It's not a pitch I'm expecting to be like my regular fastball and slider," Lidge said. "But it is a pitch I am expecting to give them something else to think about. If I can throw it for a strike, OK, now they have to respect it. If they found a good pattern on me with fastballs and sliders, which maybe they have, maybe they haven't ... if they have, that takes them completely out of their rhythm. It's something I've seen a lot of guys throw very effectively to lefties."
If it works, great. If it doesn't, Manuel has Madson.
Madson has pitched better recently as a closer. He has six saves in his last seven opportunities with a 3.38 ERA. Manuel likes Madson as an alternative to Lidge for many of the reasons he likes Lidge: he has pitched in the ninth inning before, he throws hard and he has an effective out pitch. In Lidge's case it is his slider. In Madson's case it is his changeup. Both throw in the mid-90s with Madson touching 98 mph recently in Milwaukee.
Manuel likes hard throwers in the ninth inning because they have the ability to strike out a hitter with a runner on third with less than two outs. Manuel believes that pitchers that pitch to contact are more likely to allow that runner to score because they are more likely to put the ball in play.
Had right-hander Brett Myers not strained a muscle in his back in September, he could have been a candidate to close, but he has pitched just three times since returning to the bullpen and no longer seems likely to pitch in the ninth inning.
Lidge or Madson?
Phillies fans will find out this week, and they will find out how much it matters.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.