Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Turning Point for the Champs?

At a time when tennis is enjoying its greatest fortnight of the year here in New York, with the NFL right around the corner and set to kick things off this coming Thursday night on the 2009-2010 season, I'm sitting here today and all I can think about is that Tuesday night might just have been the turning point of the entire 2009 season for Your World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. I've written about this several times over the season, and with increasing frustration and increasing frequency over the past few weeks, but Brad Lidge is absolutely killing the Phillies' chances to repeat as champs this year. Brad Lidge, Mr. Perfect from 2007, simply cannot get anybody out anymore this year. He's clearly lost his confidence, and the team has clearly lost their confidence in him, and yet manager Charlie Manuel has steadfastly insisted all through the mess that is Brad Lidge's 2009 season that Lidge is our guy, he's who we're going to give the ball to to close out games, and that's that.

Until Tuesday night, that is.

It started off like many other games for the Phils, the first game of a 3-game series against the last-place Washington Nationals. P-Mart was pitching, and once again pitching well in the earlygoing, giving the team six strong with only 2 runs allowed before allowing a quick home run in the 7th and yielding to starter-turned-reliever Brett Myers fresh off the disabled list. The Phils' bats started off slow, as has been very much the case for this team over the past couple of weeks since Lidge blew his last two saves and the offense was forced to watch their hard work slip away without their control in the bottom of the ninth for the league-leading ninth and tenth times this season, but eventually the best lineup in the National League came through. Jayson Werth smacked a home run, Chase Utley did as well, and Carlos Ruiz even chipped in with a big solo shot as well. Raul Ibanez even joined the party, hitting two dingers of his own, totalling five solo home runs for the Phils and a 5-3 lead heading into the 9th inning in Washington. Being who Charlie Manuel has been this whole season, of course this meant Brad Lidge time.

Lidge quickly reminded everybody why in my view the entire Phillies team has stopped hitting so well for the past couple of weeks, as he threw two sliders by the first batter he faced before giving up a liner single to left on a 1-2 count to lead off the Nationals' last licks. The camera flipped to Charlie Manuel in the dugout, motionless and, somehow, emotionless as well. Then the next batter, a pinch hitter for the pitcher, Lidge quickly smacked right in the middle of the back, making it first and second with nobody out in a 5-3 game. Vintage Lidge 2009, that's for sure. Amazingly, Charlie Manuel was starting to stir in the dugout, pacing the steps a little bit and muttering to himself, something we just haven't seen much of this year in Philadelphia when it comes to the team's closer. Then, after Lidge accidentally got somebody out, he immediately uncorked a very wild pitch that sent the tying runners to 2nd and 3rd, still with just one out and thus undoing the double play chance to end the game. Through all of this Manuel had shown some of his first clearly visible signs of agitation about Lidge that I've seen all season long, and after the wild pitch Manuel was really going in the dugout. But still he sat there, determined to see if his guy could get the current batter out who still sat at 2-2. After ball 3, Manuel was staring intently to see what would happen, and then Lidge fired in the sixth pitch of the at-bat, and it wasn't even close. Way down and in, nearly hitting the batter on his inside foot, and just like that Lidge had hit, plunked and walked the bases loaded. In the bottom of the 9th. In a close game. Again.

And then the most amazing thing I think I've seen this year for the Phillies happened. Charlie Manuel shot up out of the dugout faster than I've seen him move in his years as the Phillie manager, stomped his way towards Lidge on the mound and motioned for fireballing reliever Ryan Madson to get in the game, all the while glaring at Lidge a glare that I am quite sure Lidge has never seen Charlie Manuel give to him before. And just like that, Lidge was gone, pulled from a save opportunity in favor of a blatantly superior option just before officially blowing it for what I'm sure is the first time in 2009. Who knew, but I guess Charlie Manuel finally reached his breaking point last night. Of course, it helps that Madson walked right in and quickly dispatched the final two batters of the night with the bases loaded to save the game and the 5-3 win for the Phils, who remained 6 games up on the Marlins in the east as the team attempts to show the clowns at Citi Field how to hold on to a 7-game lead in September in the NL East.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: for the Phillies to have any realistic shot of even returning to the World Series this year, Brad Lidge simply cannot be in the games. Lidge is literally among the two or three worst players in all of baseball this year, and that's not really even debatable at this point. And it's far worse than a guy who's gone 0-10 as a starter. That guy, although he sucks balls at pitching most likely, has taken 10 opportunities to win, and turned them into 10 losses. But what Brad Lidge has done is far worse than that -- he has taken ten games that have more or less already been won by his team, and turning those into 10 losses over the span of five or 10 minutes, right at the end after his team has already reached 95% of the way to recording a win. If Lidge were perfect so far this year like he was in the magical 2008 championship season, the Phillies would have 88 wins and be ahead of the Yankees right now for the best record in the majors. But with Lidge, we are fighting to stay in the top few records in just the National League, and I solemnly guarantee you that for every playoff series where Brad Lidge is our go-to closer, he will blow at least one game in each series. And I also solemnly guarantee you with just as much confidence as my last statement that the Phillies, although clearly a great team, aren't even close to good enough to win many 5- or 7-game series when we're spotting our opponents one win in a game where we are leading through nine innings. No way.

As it is, the Yankees are night in and night out showing the world why they are once again the undisputed best team in baseball, and there is little doubt that they are the prohibitive favorite to take back the World Series this year. But the Phillies have the experience to give them a good run for their money, and with the additions of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, the Phils' starting staff of some combination of Cliff Lee, J. Happ, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and P-Mart, with Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers and Ryan Madson in the bullpen, is a formidable one for any opponent to overcome in any short series. The Yanks may be the clear favorite, but a team like the Phillies definitely have a chance to give them a run. Just not with Brad Lidge on the team.

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Blogger 1Queens Up1 said...

Im convinced hes been not letting on how bad his injury has been this year.

Now if he got from being piled on at the end of the WS is another story.

Charlie had to do something, he is literally killing this team. Unacceptable if the Phils pop 5 HRs and lose in the 9th.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Bayne_S said...

Grats on Manuel finally seeing light.

It took Francona 2 bad closes to switch from Foulke to Papelbon in 2006. Doubt he has ever regretted.

2:03 AM  

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