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'Lights Out' Lidge slams door10/17/2004 7:49 PM ET
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- It was as though the Astros' postseason hitting hero was sending a message to the team's postseason pitching hero. When Carlos Beltran sent a towering homer into the home bullpen in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series to give the Astros the lead, Brad Lidge knew it was game on. "As soon as it sailed into our bullpen, I had to start getting going, because they told me if we got the lead, I was in the game," said Lidge, the team's electric closer. "Everybody kind of exploded, and I wanted to jump up. But at the same time, I kind of had to gather my focus there, because I was going in the game." From there, it was Lights Out. Again. Lidge, the right-hander with that luminary nickname, was one day removed from throwing 42 pitches, but it didn't show as he pitched two hitless innings to sew up a 6-5 Astros victory that evened the NLCS at two games apiece. Playing his uniquely scary slider off his high-90s fastball, Lidge worked through the toughest part of the vaunted Cardinals' order in the ninth. After holding his breath and watching Albert Pujols send a ball to the warning track, Lidge struck out Scott Rolen to send the decibel level at Minute Maid Park to dangerous levels.
So much for the idea that the bullpen could be what does in the Astros in this series. On Sunday, Lidge and bullpen mate Dan Wheeler saved the day."There are some tremendous arms down there, and everyone can do the job -- no questions asked," Wheeler said. Of course, having the exclamation point of Lidge there at the end makes it all work. "Having him there to back you up gives you the confidence to just go, 'You know what? I can just relax and make my pitches,' " Wheeler said. "You know he's just going to come in and do the job. He's been unbelievable." That, the baseball world knew already. Lidge was very much part of the Astros' run to the Wild Card, taking over the closer spot once Octavio Dotel was traded in June, and excelling from there. But Wheeler stepped into a situation that was every bit the stopper situation, and he came through when the Astros needed him. The Astros had just tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, and Wheeler shut down the heart of the Cardinals' order in the seventh. After pitching five scoreless innings in the final game of the Divison Series and the first two games of the NLCS, Dan was the man as far as Astros manager Phil Garner was concerned.
"Dan was throwing the ball well his previous couple outings," Garner said. "I decided I was going to go to him in that situation today."Said Lidge: "Dan Wheeler did an awesome job in the seventh inning. He deserved the win." That said, Lidge definitely deserved the save -- again. He started out by completely baffling the Cardinals' hitters in the eighth. Lidge ran into a tense moment when he walked Larry Walker on four pitches and missed on his first pitch to Pujols, drawing catcher Brad Ausmus out to the mound. The message: "Your stuff is fine. Still be aggressive." Two pitches later, Pujols wound up golfing a ball to the warning track in left, putting the Astros one out from evening up the series once the ball landed in Jason Lane's glove. Lidge took care of that last out himself, whizzing a 96 mph fastball past Rolen to end it. So it was Lights Out again, thanks to Brad Lidge -- the only closer in the postseason with three saves. And don't be too surprised if the Astros manager cranks up his electric closer again if he gets the opportunity in Game 5 on Monday. "I would think I'd be able to," Lidge said. "I should be fine." Garner's take on Lidge's availablilty? "Couple innings," Garner said with a smile. "He'd better get his sleep."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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