Lidge is perfectly ready
Join a new team. Convert every save. Strike out the final batter in the World Series.
Brad Lidge’s first season with the Philadelphia Phillies played out better than anyone could have imagined. What can Mr. Perfect do for a sequel?
“This is baseball,” Lidge said. “At some point, I will blow one and I know that. Basically, my goal isn’t to improve upon last year or do better. It’s to go out, prepare every game and compete every game like I did last year.
“If that means I end up converting most of my saves, blowing a few or getting 38 out of 41, I don’t know. But as long as I do all the things I did last year mentally and physically to compete and help our team win, then I’ve had a successful year.”
Lidge was 41 for 41 in save chances and had a 1.95 ERA during the regular season, helping Philadelphia win its second straight NL East title. He was seven for seven with an 0.96 ERA in the postseason as the Phillies captured their first World Series title since 1980.
The hard-throwing righty had to pitch out of trouble in the ninth in the clinching game against the Tampa Bay Rays. The tying run was on second with two outs when Lidge struck out Eric Hinske swinging on a nasty slider to end it.
“At that point, it has to be your best one,” Lidge said.
After fanning Hinske, Lidge dropped to his knees, raised his arms and screamed in the air. Catcher Carlos Ruiz ran out and leaped into Lidge’s arms, and everyone else piled on.
The image of a jubilant Lidge on his knees will forever be remembered by fans in Philly the same way as Tug McGraw’s leap after striking Kansas City’s Willie Wilson to end the ’80 Series.
“I always figured I’d be jumping up and down but I guess it happened and that’s how I felt,” Lidge said. “I said, ‘Oh my God, we just won the World Series.’ I remember Carlos coming out and then being on my head and having 100 people on me.”
It was the perfect way to end a perfect season.
“When you think about it, it’s absolutely outstanding,” manager Charlie Manuel said.
Things didn’t start so well for Lidge when he first joined the Phillies. He caught a spike in the mound on his first practice pitch with his new team and required a second operation on his right knee. He already had surgery on that knee a few months earlier, so it appeared Lidge might be damaged goods.
The time he spent on the disabled list was beneficial for Lidge. He worked on his control, returned with pinpoint accuracy and was lights-out the entire season.
Lidge won the NL Comeback Player of the Year award, finished fourth in voting for the Cy Young award and eighth for MVP. He was an All-Star for the second time in his career and earned a $37.5 million, three-year extension in midseason.
The 32-year-old Lidge enters this season with 44 consecutive saves, dating to his last year with Houston. It’s 51 in a row if you count the postseason. Only two relievers had longer streaks: Eric Gagne saved 84 straight for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2002-04 and Tom Gordon saved 54 in a row for Boston from 1998-99.
“I felt very confident, but I also had very good preparation and a great game plan last year and I was able to execute it,” he said. “I had a lot better control.”
Lidge established himself as an elite closer with the Astros in 2004, when he had 29 saves and a 1.90 ERA in his second full season in the majors. He was 42 for 46 with a 2.29 ERA in ’05.
But after allowing a homer to St. Louis’ Albert Pujols in the NLCS, Lidge wasn’t the same. Houston still beat the Cardinals to advance to the World Series, but Lidge allowed a game-winning homer to Scott Podsednik in Game 2 and took another loss in Game 4 as the White Sox completed a sweep.
In 2006, Lidge had a 5.28 ERA with 32 saves in 38 chances. He was 19 for 27 in his last year in Houston. The Phillies hoped Lidge would regain his old form when they acquired him and utility man Eric Bruntlett for speedy outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary and minor league third baseman Mike Costanzo in November 2007.
Turned out to be the best move general manager Pat Gillick made in his three seasons in charge.
“He got off good and things really took off for him and he played a huge role in us winning the World Series,” Manuel said.
The Phillies had targeted Lidge for a few years. They certainly didn’t think he was washed-up after a couple of subpar seasons. Coaches felt he just needed a change of scenery and a boost in confidence.
“When I used to see Lidge and would see his stuff, I used to think just a little bit more confidence, just a little bit better location, this guy could really be something special,” Manuel said. “I had seen him when he first came up and he hadn’t lost nothing. We wanted him. He showed us this past season exactly what we saw in him and why we got him.”
All Lidge has to do now is try for an encore.