Rich Hofmann: The moment we all feared: Lidge implosion

Brad Lidge reflects after giving up three ninth-inning runs.
Brad Lidge reflects after giving up three ninth-inning runs.
Posted: November 02, 2009

FIVE APPEARANCES. Four innings pitched. One hit. No runs. That had been the postseason enjoyed by Brad Lidge before last night.

Then, it happened. This is what we have all expected to happen since about June. This was the concern. The emotions have risen and fallen since that time, and the opinions and prognostications have varied along with those rhythms. But the thing has always been there, in the back of everybody's mind.

The thing: that Brad Lidge really wasn't Brad Lidge anymore.

Perfection is the standard. Lidge set it. Lidge knows it. That he never had a chance to match it, after his impeccable, impossible 2008 season, was a known fact. But he has not approached it. He has not been in the area code. We have all pretended sometimes, or kind of pretended. But we always really knew, deep down.

And then the ninth inning happened, offering crushing confirmation that it really isn't 2008 anymore. And now, after a 7-4 loss to the Yankees, the Phillies trail in the World Series by three games to one.

"It's always tough,'' Lidge said. "You always want to go out there and have good results. Anytime you don't do well, it's frustrating. Obviously, the guys did a great job coming back tonight, so I really wish we could have come out with the 'W' here. But we've got Cliff [Lee] going tomorrow. We feel good about that.''

The hope in his eyes screamed at you as Lidge spoke to a mob of reporters in the Phillies' clubhouse. It will be hard to forget the look in those eyes.

The ninth inning, it began with such promise. When Pedro Feliz hit the game-tying home run with two outs and a 3-2 count on him in the bottom of the eighth inning, it energized Citizens Bank Park. It offered hope most of all, loud hope. And it was on that wave of noise and emotion that Lidge rode out from the bullpen.

Pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui led off the inning and popped out to shortstop. Derek Jeter, who already had scored a run and driven in a run, struck out. There were two outs and Lidge was looking just fine. And you sat there and wondered.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had watched the deconstruction of Lidge this season and never gave up on him. Manuel had worked to rebuild Lidge, to resurrect his confidence. It has been great work, and Lidge had shown signs, flashes, whatever. The postseason had been untainted. But, deep down, well, who knew?

With two outs, Lidge could not put away Johnny Damon, who fouled off pitch after pitch before serving a single into leftfield. It was a nine-pitch at-bat and it changed everything.

"I felt real good,'' Lidge said. "It felt like one of those innings that was going to be a good, quick inning. And then he ended up having a really good at-bat, seeing a lot of pitches. Very quickly after that, he's on third base. It turned pretty quick . . . It happened really fast. Real close to getting out of the inning.''

Third base? Huh? It was the moment that will live forever in the annals. As everyone knows, Lidge does not hold runners on first base at all. He is just lousy at it. As Damon said, "I knew he was slow to the plate. I knew I had to take a chance early.''

So Damon stole second, which has become pretty standard operating procedure. The sickening, unforgettable moment came next. Because they had an overshift on against Mark Teixeira, Feliz was the one who took the throw down to second base. That means somebody else had to cover third.

But nobody did.

"I remember that he took off,'' Lidge said, reconstructing the moment. "I threw the ball to Carlos [Ruiz, the Phillies' catcher] and kind of crouched down and turned around to see what was going to be the result. I remember the ball kind of bouncing by me a little bit. It looked like he was just on second base and then, all of a sudden, he took off for third - which really surprised me. I thought we had him. I didn't realize there was nobody at third base. Then I looked over and saw there was no one there. I tried to get over there, but he's faster than I am.''

So, who should be covering?

"It's the catcher or the pitcher has to be heads up,'' Manuel said. " . . . Evidently, there was some miscommunication there. It's the first time we've had it happen to us this year.''

From there, Lidge completely unraveled. It was as if the strange Damon moment unnerved him, costing him his focus - although Lidge denied this afterward. He hit Teixeira with a pitch, bringing up Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod drilled a two-run double to leftfield, scoring Damon, and then Jorge Posada followed with a two-run single that made it 7-4.

Rodriguez hit a fastball. Lidge was asked if he threw fastballs early to A-Rod because of a hesitancy about bouncing a slider with Damon on third. Lidge said that wasn't it. He said he's sure they would have gotten to the slider eventually.

It is a question for the ages. Anyway, at that point, the deconstruction was complete. And the question for Manuel was if the Damon moment cost Lidge his focus.

"I think the first two hitters he did real well,'' Manuel said. "He was up 1-2 on Damon. Damon had a real good at-bat . . . Once he stole, did he lose [focus], I don't know. I don't know. He was having trouble. But at the same time, when he started the inning, he was fine.''

And then he wasn't. And now the Phillies need Cliff Lee to save them, which used to be Brad Lidge's job.

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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