11/02/09 2:16 AM EST
Bodley: A year later, Lidge's star fading
Game 4 collapse epitomizes '09 struggles for Phils closer
Oct. 29, 2008.
Close your eyes again. Alex Rodriguez lines a double to left field, Johnny Damon races home from third base and the Yankees take a 5-4 lead and are on their way to a dramatic 7-4 victory over the dazed Phillies. Moans and groans vibrate throughout Citizens Bank Park. Lidge, beaten and dazed, his head bowed, walks off the mound.
Nov. 1, 2009.
The contrast separated by a year is stunning.
Lidge -- from hero to goat. The Philadelphia Phillies -- from proud World Series champions to all but dethroned.
The powerful New York Yankees are just one victory -- they'll go after it in Game 5 on Monday night at 7:57 p.m. ET -- from winning their 27th championship and first since 2000.
Just when it appeared the often-resilient Phillies were about to pull out another of their late-inning comebacks, the roof caved in Sunday night.
After pulling even at 4-4 with the Yankees on Pedro Feliz's home run with two outs in the eighth inning, Lidge allowed three runs, and New York leads the best-of-seven series three games to one.
Sunday's jarring setback was so excruciating I wonder if the Phillies can recover Monday night, even though their ace, Cliff Lee, will be on the mound.
What happened to Lidge in the ninth was so typical of the disastrous season he's endured.
LIDGE'S SURGE ENDS
This time last year he was celebrating perfection: He was 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season and 7-for-7 in the postseason, including the clincher over Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the World Series.
He blew 11 saves during the 2009 regular season, but had regained his form in the postseason -- until the ninth inning Sunday night.
Lidge, who hadn't pitched in 11 days, got two quick outs. Hideki Matsui popped out to Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter fanned. Lidge had two strikes on Damon before the left fielder nicked a pitch catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn't hold. The count went 3-2, Damon singled to left on the ninth pitch, and the inning and game began to unravel for Lidge as it has much of 2009.
With the dangerous Mark Teixeira batting and the Phillies defense shifted toward right field, Damon broke for second. Then with third base unattended continued to complete back-to-back steals.
Lidge hit Teixeira with a fastball and A-Rod drilled an 0-1 pitch to left. Moments later, Jorge Posada singled home two more runs. Lidge and the Phillies were finished.
Lidge, staring into space, remained on the dugout bench long after his teammates headed to the clubhouse.
"I was one pitch away for getting out of there," he said. "But Damon had a tremendous at-bat. Sometimes you gotta tip your hat. If I could have put away Damon, it would have been a good, quick inning. But he had a good at-bat and they got some runs."
On the crucial nine-pitch at-bat, Damon said Lidge "got ahead of me 0-2. I kept chasing that slider down, and I was able to force it to 3-2, and then I kept sitting on the slider, and he kept throwing the fastball.
"I felt his slider made me look silly on a couple of pitches, so I kept sitting on the slider and reacted to the fastball. Fortunately, I got enough of it to get it over the shortstop."
Lidge added: "Obviously, the inning is frustrating, but Damon had a great at-bat, and unfortunately I wasn't able to get the job done after that. They did a good job. There's not a whole lot we can do about it now. We're down three games to one and it's win or go home. We gotta come out tomorrow and have Cliff do his thing."
Many of Lidge's Major League-leading 11 blown saves during 2009 evolved the same way Sunday's did.
He often would get one or two quick outs, then be unable to close the inning. Sunday's wasn't a blown save because the Phillies didn't have the lead, but the inning will haunt the sensitive Lidge for a long time. Manager Charlie Manuel has done everything possible to resurrect the closer of 2008 and restore his confidence.
Even though at times he was reluctant to summon him from the bullpen in save situations, instead calling on Ryan Madson and others, Manuel insisted, "Brad Lidge is still my closer."
That approach seemed to pay off as Lidge became effective in the postseason against Colorado and Los Angeles.
Manuel wondered if Damon's double steal Sunday night rattled Lidge.
"Did he lose his focus?" Manuel asked. "I think the first two batters he did real well. He was up on the count on Damon. Damon had a real good at-bat and ran the count to 3-2. But once he stole, did he [Lidge] lose it? I don't know. He was having trouble."
Even with Lee pitching, it will be difficult for the Phillies to shake their latest loss.
But Manuel says, "We take a lot of pride on being resilient and the way we bounce back. I know that we're going to come out and play tomorrow to win.
"I've seen us go through it before. We've blown 22 games from the seventh inning on or something this year. That's got to tell you something about the resiliency of our team."
Pausing, Manuel added: "Tonight is tough. We're in the World Series now. But at the same time, we're down, but you know what? We're still breathing."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.