1. Archive


The Phillies closer, dominant all season, overmatches hitters in a 1-2-3 ninth.

Rays cleanup hitter Evan Longoria said he studied about 25 at-bats of right-handed hitters facing Phillies closer Brad Lidge heading into the World Series.

But when it came time for the Rays rookie third baseman to face Lidge for the first time, in the ninth inning of the Phillies' 3-2 win in Game 1, Longoria felt painfully ill-prepared.

"You can look at all the video you want," Longoria said. "But once you get in the batter's box, it's totally different. He threw me all sliders. I never saw a fastball."

The Rays hadn't seen him up close until Wednesday, but Lidge has been the NL's most dominant closer - and one of the main reasons the Phillies are in the series.

Lidge's 1-2-3 ninth - and easy dismantling of the Rays' third, fourth and fifth hitters to complete a 1-for-12 night for them - preserved perfection. Lidge has converted all 47 save opportunities this season, including six in the playoffs.

The NL comeback player of the year relied heavily on his slider - he threw it 13 times out of 15 pitches - striking out Carlos Pena and Longoria on check swings then inducing Carl Crawford into a foul popout to third. The Rays rarely saw Lidge's mid 90s fastball, instead falling victim to Lidge's deceptive and dipping strikeout pitch.

It was in the same vein that Phillies starter Cole Hamels held the Rays' bats in check by leaning on his changeups, throwing off Tampa Bay's first look at Philadelphia's left-handed ace.

One of the big questions heading into the series was whether the Phillies would be rusty after not playing since winning the pennant in Los Angeles on Oct. 15. But the Phillies pitchers showed maybe the Rays were the ones who had some catching up to do.

Asked how good Lidge's slider was Wednesday, Longoria - who struck out on four pitches - just shook his head and said, "What can you say? It's as good as it gets."

Pena's evaluation: "It's a lot different when you see it."

Mitch Williams, a former Phillies closer and now a Phillies TV analyst - echoed Longoria's sentiment: Lidge is a tough study.

"They can go up all day and say, 'I'm going to go up there and take that slider,'" Williams said. "But guess what? If you're trying to win a game and you're trying to contribute, you just can't lay off that pitch because it looks so good."