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Losing By Winning: Turn The Lights Out On Lidge

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lidge1 Losing By Winning: Turn The Lights Out On LidgeDon’t let the winning fool you, especially the last few games. The Phillies are climbing back into contention by feasting on sub par clubs that like to kick the ball around in the outfield and don’t do the most fundamental of things like covering home plate on errant pitches with a runner on third. So be it. The Phillies will take the four-game sweep over the quickly sinking Colorado Rockies and they should be pleased.

The Phillies have now gotten within a sniff of the Atlanta Braves and with the arrival of woeful Arizona–sans Dan Haren–they should be able to roll over the Diamondbacks, too. Who knows, by the middle of August, the Phillies can be right on Atlanta’s heels enough to make the Braves nervous, if they haven’t done so already by their recent surge.

But there is one lingering blemish that won’t go away. It’s buzzed around this team the last two years without even a hint being questioned by management. Here’s the thought that should make everyone who’s witnessed the last two games edgy: Nothing is safe with Brad Lidge on the mound. The old thought that once the Phils got a lead, regardless of how large or small, old “Lights Out” Lidge would hold it down and close it out. Not so anymore. His 2009 season was a disaster and this season doesn’t look any more promising.

While Ruben Amaro looks for more starting pitching maybe someone within the Phillies’ organization should shake the GM and let him know loudly HE HAS NO CLOSER!

In 2008, it was easy. Lidge was the Perfect Man. Mr. 48-for-48. You knew the concoction to the winning formula. Lidge was the key. Build a lead, call the ‘pen, here comes Lights Out to slam it down and save the day. Someone needs to shake the few diehard Phillies fans out there if they think that Lidge still exists. It’s over. It’s easy to understand Charlie Manuel’s loyalty to the man probably most responsible for him having a World Series championship ring and the Phils snaring their second championship in franchise history.

But you don’t have to be a baseball expert, nor a professional baseball coach to see what’s been happening in the ninth inning. On Sunday, it was a 30-pitch, white-knuckled, tension-filled ninth before the escape. On Monday, in the series finale against sinking Colorado, it was a 34-pitch nail-biter that Lidge also slithered free of. How much slithering can one closer get away with?

You pay your ticket money to see excitement. Do you want to see that kind of excitement? The fact is this team is one Brad Lidge two-out, late-September three-run, ninth-inning homer from blowing it all. Just close your eyes. You can imagine it happening. What’s hard to understand is that the Phillies can’t. Yes, the Phils hung on for a 5-4 victory on Monday. Lidge even blurted out afterward, “First and foremost is winning the game.” But they did it in consecutive games with the bases loaded and peril sitting on third base in the ninth inning—both situations courtesy of Mr. Lidge’s penchant for undue drama.

Tell us when you began feeling comfortable? First, Lidge surrendered a two-run homer to Seth Smith. Were you feeling in control then? Did you have a sense that it was something that would pass and Lidge would get out of it unscathed?  Then he loaded the bases. Feeling better now? How that’s stomach? All in knots? The Phillies should hand out antacid tablets each time Lidge pitches. They can call them “Lights Out” pills.

Thankfully, Lidge got Ryan Spilborghs to ground out back to him. Thankfully, more trouble was averted. But how much more thankful should the Phillies be to Lidge? His 2008 debt of thanks has been paid in full–and then some, with a new contract, and a iron-clad belief from Manuel that Lidge will continue being “The Man” out of the pen.

You don’t need to have 30-plus years of baseball knowledge to see this arrangement that worked two years ago has grown bitterly stale. But like Lidge says, the Phils keep on winning. And as long as they keep on winning, like they did in Games 3 and 4 against Colorado, maybe, just maybe, they’ll continue believing in Lidge.

It looks like they have. And that’s the greatest fear of all. As the Phils lurch toward contender status in August, how much longer will that belief endure as the Phillies are one imminent Brad Lidge fastball from being taken deep for a three-run, ninth-inning blast that wrecks everything? That’s enough to make anyone feel queasy. How much longer can the Phillies trot out Brad Lidge?

Instant drama. Instant gratification–that’s if he can get the last out. In the middle, you have a heart attack. That’s one closing role Lidge has fit well.

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