Madson closes the deal for Phillies

Phillies' catcher Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Madson celebrate their game three NLDS game against the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis, Mo on Tuesday, October 4, 2011. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
Phillies' catcher Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Madson celebrate their game three NLDS game against the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis, Mo on Tuesday, October 4, 2011. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer) (Daily News/Inquirer)
Posted: October 05, 2011

ST. LOUIS - There was a time, not so long ago, when the long walk from the bullpen to the mound might have gotten to Ryan Madson.

He wasn't feeling right. His mechanics weren't smooth. His change-up, a crucial pitch for him in contrast with his blazing fastball, just wasn't working for him. On top of that, he was not starting the ninth, as usual. He was in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of coming in with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth.

The sellout crowd at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night was rocking. It was like having his head inside a jet engine.

"That was a lot of fun," Madson said after walking a high wire for his first five-out save. The 3-2 victory gave the Phillies a two-games-to-one lead with two chances to advance to their fourth consecutive National League Championship Series.

Finding fun in that pressure cooker is what separates great closers from merely good pitchers. It is the role Brad Lidge played so well for the Phillies in their 2008 championship run. It is a role that Madson wasn't quite ready for as recently as last season.

"It definitely gets your adrenaline going," Lidge said. "Those situations are kind of what we live for. If not, you'd better check yourself. It's probably the most fun time to be playing in a major-league baseball game."

Even when the bases are loaded and there is zero margin for error. Even when you're not feeling quite right.

"It happens," Madson said. "Just a normal mechanical thing. I'm long, lanky. Got to get a lot of things in line. My good change-up wasn't there today, but it was good enough. The hitters don't know if it's good or not that day. They're just going off what they're seeing."

The younger Madson might not have handled all that so calmly.

"He was putting too much pressure on himself early in his career and when I was injured to be perfect out there," Lidge said. "Now I think he realizes, 'Hey, I can trust myself. If I can just agree with what Carlos Ruiz calls and throw it, it's going to work out.' You don't have to be perfect. You just have to make pitch after pitch."

Madson had to face Allen Craig with superstar Albert Pujols on deck. Craig fouled off a 94-m.p.h. fastball, then drilled Madson's second pitch right at second baseman Chase Utley. Utley scooped it up, ran over to second, and fired to first for an inning- and rally-ending double play.

Two pitches. Two outs.

"That helped," Madson said. "I didn't want to throw 15 pitches in that inning and then throw another 15. Whatever it takes. I could have thrown 50, and it wouldn't have mattered."

The double play also prevented Pujols from coming to the plate with a chance to give the Cardinals the lead. Instead of hitting with two runners on, he led off the ninth.

"I wasn't thinking that far ahead," Madson, ever the closer, said. "Athletes don't - or at least I don't - think that far ahead."

Before he could deal with Pujols, Madson had to step in for an at-bat against Cardinals closer Jason Motte.

"That's not very comfortable," Madson said. "I don't ever do it, and he was throwing 100. That was a little nerve-racking."

Pujols, who has seven hits in three games, drilled a double to left. He wound up scoring on a two-out single by Yadier Molina. But Madson got Ryan Theriot, who had four singles in four prior at-bats, to ground out to Utley for the save.

"You don't have to be perfect," Madson said. "You just have to go out there and make pitches, one at a time. They swing early, swing often. One good pitch can get you out of an inning, like it did."

A half-hour after the game, Madson took another long walk. This time, the ballpark was empty and silent. Madson's toddler son was at his side. They walked from the Phillies dugout to the bullpen, where the younger Madson got to check out dad's office.

It is one of the great things about this era of Phillies baseball. Fans have gotten to watch Madson grow from a skinny kid into a man, from a nervous middle reliever to a fiercely competitive closer. If this whole thing turns out as the Phillies expect, he has a good chance to be the guy hugging Ruiz after the last out of the World Series.

There will be more thrillers like this one, more nights to share with his son.

"I wish I was a lot better tonight," Madson said, "but I guess I was good enough."

That's an understatement.

"He did a super heck of a job," manager Charlie Manuel said.

That's more like it.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

 

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