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Phillies' Lidge revives career in unlikely place

Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who struggled his final two seasons in Houston, has converted all 46 save opportunities, including five in the playoffs, in his first season in Philadelphia.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who struggled his final two seasons in Houston, has converted all 46 save opportunities, including five in the playoffs, in his first season in Philadelphia.

ST. PETERSBURG

Phillies closer Brad Lidge never thought this would be the place where he would find vindication, revive his career and put a smile back on his face.

Philadelphia is a city that can transform a hero into a bum in a matter of moments, but it is here where Lidge has re-established himself as baseball's most dependable closer.

He has been there before, when he was first dubbed "Lights Out" as closer for the Astros. He headed into the 2005 postseason with 42 saves.

But one moonshot walkoff home run by Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the NLCS seemingly sent Lidge into a postseason tailspin. Though the Astros advanced to the World Series, Lidge lost two games in the Fall Classic. Houston fans unearthed a scapegoat.

Over the next two seasons, he battled boos, mechanical problems and control issues — as well as a revolving door with this role.

"It was a combination of a whole bunch of stuff," said Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who was Lidge's pitching coach in Houston from 2004-06. "He set the bar so high for himself. And then a bunch of things happened. It was kind of like the perfect storm."

Houston then dealt Lidge to Philadelphia this past offseason.

And he has set a new bar.

"Who has been better than he is?" Phillies manager Charlie Manuel asked before last week's NLCS. "He's been perfect."

As the Phillies open their first World Series in 15 years Wednesday, Lidge might be the biggest reason they are here. He was the missing piece for an organization one move away: a dominating strikeout pitcher who could bridge the eighth inning to victory.

"We just have the utmost confidence in him," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "He's come in and been great for us."

Lidge, 31, enters Game 1 at Tropicana Field having converted all 46 save opportunities this season, including five in the postseason. He is averaging nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings. His next converted save would be his 50th straight, and he hasn't blown a save since Sept. 23, 2007.

"It's incredible what he's done," said Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, a former AL saves leader and current TBS baseball analyst. "And he does it with just one pitch. He throws 95 sometimes, but it's with one pitch, that slider. They just don't stop swinging at it."

Lidge, who won this year's NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, said he believes he's better than he has ever been. The clean slate from his change of scenery obviously helped, but he has also learned to deal with more.

"I really do feel what I went through in '06 and '07 and in the postseason in '05 has made me a lot better now," he said. "When you've been through the experiences I've been through, you kind of know the highs and lows, so there's nothing out here that I haven't been through. And that's kind of a nice feeling to have. I've been through both sides of it. That experience helps me now to know I can go do my thing and whatever happens, happens."

When the Phillies acquired Lidge in November in a trade that didn't give the Astros much — the centerpiece, 25-year-old Michael Bourn, stole 41 bases but was a disappointment — the team immediately designated Lidge as its closer, a move Lidge said was a confidence boost heading into a new city.

Then he just needed to know how to handle his new surroundings. This is, of course, the city that once booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game. Lidge leaned on former Phillies closer Billy Wagner, who offered him some advice when he arrived in Philly.

"Get off to a good start and fans will love you," Wagner told Lidge. "If not, it's going to be tough."

And Lidge has found out that closing in Philadelphia is a little easier than expected.

"Part of that is how I've pitched," Lidge said. "A large part of that is how this team's done. Those two things have kind of made this a dream season for me."

Brad Lidge career statistics
Season TeamG IP H R ER HR BB SO SV BLSV ERA
2002 Hou 6 8.2 12 6 6 0 9 12 0 6.23
2003 Hou 78 85.0 60 36 34 6 42 97 1 5 3.60
2004 Hou 80 94.2 57 21 20 8 30 157 29 4 1.90
2005 Hou 70 70.2 58 21 18 5 23 103 42 4 2.29
2006 Hou 78 75.0 69 47 44 10 36 104 32 6 5.28
2007 Hou 66 67.0 54 29 25 9 30 88 19 8 3.36
2008 Phi 72 69.1 50 17 15 2 35 92 41 0 1.95
Total 450 470.1 360 177 162 40 205 653 164 27 3.10

Phillies' Lidge revives career in unlikely place 10/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 4:45pm]
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