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NLCS closers a special breed10/12/2004 7:09 PM ET
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Talk about Type-A guys. They're the best closers on the two best teams in the National League, men who must withstand the ultimate pressure-cooker atmosphere of the volatile end-game.
The final frames.
Tension. Nerves jangling. Crowd roaring. This is not a time for the timid, for the meek do not inherit the mound's earth -- they scamper away in fright.
Not St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, not Houston Astros finisher Brad Lidge, ready for work starting Wednesday night at Busch Stadium in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
They're a special breed who live for those moments, relievers who can harness the energy spurted out by the adrenal glands, hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine that infiltrate the body's nervous system and get synapses firing like mad.
It's like a wildfire inside, but they channel the heat and somehow are like the eye of a hurricane. Cool and collected.
Isringhausen admits it. He's like a light switch. Flip him the ball and the electricity is on. Direct current. Kilowatt K man.
"You do have to be a little bit of an adrenaline junkie," said Isringhausen. "It's what makes it fun. I get nervous a little bit, but you put that to good use. Even that little bit of fear you channel to your advantage. It makes you focus a little better."
Pressure facing the Astros? Absolutely. But Izzy's competitive spirit and testosterone takes over when he's on the hill. That's why he's here and not pitching slow-pitch softball at Tarpon Springs, Fla. He thrives on the action and intensity, but throttles his temperament so he won't overthrow.
At age 32, he's been there before. Regular season, postseason, he tries to treat it all the same. The right-hander had a 2-0 record with three saves in six games against the Astros this year over 8 2/3 innings, so he expects the same results.
"Usually when I pitch there's always pressure on the line, so I try to treat it as any other game," said Isringhausen, who notched 47 saves this season, sporting a 2.87 ERA. "I know it's not. But you just try to make good pitches, and it either happens or it doesn't.
"I'm not going to change what I'm doing, so I just do what I do and keep the ball in the ballyard and depend on my defense."
For the nine-year veteran, how he feels -- bullstrong or accuracy lacking -- doesn't really matter. Only the results. He says super pitches can break bats but base hits can still fall.
Isringhausen likes the Cardinals' chances against the Astros.
"As long as we go out there and make good pitches we have a chance to beat anybody," he said. "We have a good bullpen. We just can't shoot ourselves in the foot and give up big innings."
Lidge, who recorded 29 saves with a brilliant 1.90 ERA over 80 games this season for Houston, says banter is loose in the bullpen -- cards and food and movies and music. Take your pick.
Then things change.
"It's a tough thing to describe," said the 27-year-old right-hander. "You're stomach starts feeling different, it's hard to sit down, you want to stretch and pace around.
"It's kind of funny. Conversations are short at around the fifth and sixth innings and you can't think of anything but the game. It's not like a runner's high, it's more nerves."
Lidge had his Major League debut only two years ago, but he knows his job depends on relaxing at a time when people around him are atwitter. He'll walk off the hill, take a deep breath or two, or three.
It's odd, he explains. When he's warming up, he's nervous and anxious. But then the hitter steps in and his universe narrows to 60 feet, 6 inches. Tunnel vision.
"Honestly, it takes a little bit of training," said Lidge. "If you've never done it before it takes a while to get your nerves under control. You get used to it and even trick yourself to get focused. But once the hitter's in the box it's like a normal game."
Postgame, Lidge says he can't eat for an hour until his stomach settles, the nerves cool down. Then he suddenly feels tired. "You use a lot more energy than you think you do, even if it's just for a few innings."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.