11/02/09 2:35 AM EST
A strike away, Lidge unravels in ninth
Phillies closer's playoff resurgence takes turn for worse
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
That 7.21 season ERA, those 11 blown saves, the eight losses and all those calls this summer for his removal from the ninth-inning role, they all could have gone for naught. All Lidge had to do was have just one week in which he resembled that pitcher who went 41-for-41 in save opportunities a year ago.
It all seemed so simple, so capably in his grasp.
And then, there was Sunday.
After Philadelphia's deflating 7-4 loss to the Yankees in Game 4, Lidge stood in the center of the Phillies' clubhouse, locked in the glaring camera lights that seemed to expose all of his season's flaws one by one. It was a scene that Lidge has had much time to practice for through the course of his tumultuous season. But, of course, that practice had come for all the wrong reasons.
"It's always tough," he said. "I was one out away from getting out of it."
Indeed, Lidge was one out -- a single strike, for that matter -- away from continuing his postseason renaissance. As forgettable as his regular season might have been, Lidge had been nearly perfect in the playoffs, notching three saves in four scoreless innings.
Hopeful that Lidge's string of success would continue, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called on the closer in the ninth inning on Sunday, just minutes after Pedro Feliz's home run tied the score at 4 and brought a towel-waving Philadelphia crowd back on its feet.
LIDGE'S SURGE ENDS
Lidge's spot in the batting order was coming up first in the bottom half of the ninth, so his duty was as straightforward as it could be: Get three outs. Keep the game tied. Give the Phillies a chance to win it on a walk-off.
The first two outs came with ease for Lidge, as he leaned on his trademark fastball-slider combination. He got ahead in the count, 0-2, to Johnny Damon before the battle of this World Series ensued. Catcher Carlos Ruiz nearly sealed a strikeout, but couldn't nab a foul tip by Damon early in the at-bat. Lidge then watched Damon single on the ninth pitch of the at-bat.
Damon took off for second on Lidge's first pitch to Mark Teixeira and didn't stop until he took third, alertly taking the extra base when he noticed that, because of a drastic shift on Teixeira, no one was covering third.
"It was kind of a weird play," Lidge said. "We were kind of out of sorts."
Whether Lidge's concentration was broken up by that play, we'll never know for sure. For the record, he said it wasn't. But an RBI double by Alex Rodriguez and a two-run single from Jorge Posada followed. New York sealed its 3-1 series lead. Lidge sealed another in a growing loss column.
"Did he lose his focus?" Manuel said afterward. "Once he stole, did he lose ... I don't know. I mean, I don't know. I mean, he was having trouble. But at the same time the way he started the inning, he was fine."
Added Lidge: "The third out is normally the toughest. It was very close. I felt good out there, but they did a great job fighting pitches off and battling and kept themselves alive and kept the inning going and capitalized on some pitches that they were kind of looking for."
And to make matters even more frustrating for Lidge was the fact that he then had to sit in the home dugout, watching Yankees closer Mariano Rivera so effortlessly do what he had been unable to.
"It's a tough situation," said a sympathetic Rivera, who has 39 postseason saves. "I know as a closer, you're trying to do your best there. But sometimes it's going to happen."
Now Lidge finds himself joining company with George Frazier and Eddie Watt for the most career losses (three) in relief in World Series history. And he finds himself looking at the possibility that this is how his 2009 season is going to come to an end. How cruel a bookend to this season that could be.
"Hopefully, I get another chance to get out there and hopefully get a save," Lidge said. "It's always tough. You always want to go out there and have good results. Obviously, guys did a good job coming back tonight and I wish we could have gotten a 'W' here."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.