Phil Sheridan: Baby, it’s cold outside

Posted: October 12, 2009

DENVER - It was almost as if the bitter cold slowed time itself, turning Game 3 of this National League division series into an epic drama that unfolded in excruciating fashion.

"I like it," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of the tense, four-hour-long 6-5 victory. Even when I hate it, I like it. It tests you. That's what the game is all about. It's exciting, but in some ways it's not too good."

Phillies fans know that feeling all too well. Those who were able to stay up until the absurd, wee-hour ninth-inning climax experienced fluttering hearts and clammy palms when Brad Lidge came strolling out of the bullpen.

It had come to this. Hours of push-pull, grind-it-out baseball, with pitching changes and a game-changing injury, had been played in weather that was too cold at an hour that was too late.

It was already Columbus Day in Philadelphia when the scoreboards in Coors Field lit up with Major League Baseball's 2009 postseason motto. There were still three innings to play. The temperature had dropped to 27 degrees.

"This is Beyond Baseball," the scoreboard blared.

Gosh. You think?

Ryan Madson, the sometime closer during Lidge's nightmare 2009 regular season, had been pressed into duty in the seventh after lefty Scott Eyre was injured. Madson hadn't been warming up. He came in cold, with runners on first and third and nobody out.

"I was happy to go in there," Madson said. "I thought it was going to be fun."

Madson held the Rockies to just one run there. He had to strike out Todd Helton with a 96-mph fastball to do it. It probably helped Madson that Helton had fouled off a couple of equally hard pitches and was shaking his hands to try to get the feeling back in them.

Then, in a foreshadowing of what was to come, Chad Durbin pitched a clean eighth inning to keep the game tied and give the Phillies a chance. In the top of the ninth, the Phillies scored a single run by taking Rockies fans on that same white-knuckle thrill ride with Colorado's closer, Huston Street.

After all the talk and speculation, all the fretting and finger-crossing, Lidge was the last legitimate candidate to close the game remaining in the bullpen. It had to be him. With the chance to take control of this series, it had to be Lidge.

"People were talking about who the closer would be," centerfielder Shane Victorino said. "I wanted the ball in Brad's hand."

Lidge didn't make it easy on you. Of course not. He got a ground out on just his second pitch, then ran a full count before walking Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez almost immediately stole second base.

The Rockies sent Jason Giambi up as a pinch hitter. Lidge threw him a cutter, a pitch he has seldom used in games. Giambi popped it up.

"For me, the good thing about that pitch is I've thrown it a lot in the bullpen," Lidge said. "I worked on it back when I was in Houston, but I didn't know what I was doing with it and I kind of pocketed it. Lefties are used to seeing fastball/slider from me. That gives me another pitch I can use."

To throw it in that situation took the kind of confidence that Lidge seemed to have misplaced for most of this season. But then, all year he had tried to get that fastball/slider combination -- his "bread and butter," he called it -- to work the way it did in his perfect 2008 season.

Lidge walked Helton, putting the potential winning run on base and jacking up the collective blood pressure of insomniac Phillies fans into the danger zone. It was after 2 a.m. in the East, after midnight Mountain time. Colorado's cleanup hitter, Troy Tulowitzki, stepped into the box.

Lidge threw a fastball. Ball one. He came back with another. Tulowitzki swung. As the ball sailed harmless toward left fielder Ben Francisco, the Phillies began pouring out of the dugout to celebrate.

They have to win just one game to advance to the NL Championship Series against Los Angeles. The Rockies would have to beat both Cliff Lee today and Cole Hamels tomorrow.

It is good to be the Phillies today.

They are in this spot because of Lidge, yes, but also because their best players, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, came through at the most important moments. They are in this spot because they didn't allow the awful start time or absurd weather to beat them. Neither did the Rockies.

"It was one of the better and funner games we've played," Howard said.

It was epic. It was endless. It was freezing. It was surreal. It was dramatic. It was all the things these Phillies thrive on.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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