Sam Donnellon: Lidge goes down memory lane to Philly's last championship

Posted: January 11, 2013

WE ARE just weeks away from a fifth spring training since Brad Lidge dropped to his knees and raised his arms to the heavens, channeling the overriding emotion of most, if not all of the Delaware Valley at that moment. Arms in the air, reflecting both deliverance and exaltation, a release of demons imagined and real - oh, so real.

Perfection. In sports. In Philadelphia. The 5 years since, a parade of heartbreak has followed that sun-splashed parade - bad breaks and disappointments have reinforced what a rarefied wind he brought that season. The Phillies have since moondanced back to mediocrity. The Eagles are a mess. The Flyers are just assembling now and last year they - and you'll never believe this - lost in the playoffs to the Devils.

And the Sixers can't catch a break. Still.

Even many of our finest moments have been a bit of a mess, whether we are talking about toweling off the fog in Buffalo during the Flyers' Stanley Cup run, or the messy, mistake-filled game that gave the Eagles their last championship in 1960. Things are hard to come by here. Or haven't you noticed?

And so, as time goes on, what Lidge managed to do that year sounds even more incredible than it was at the time. Even when he entered the postseason with 41 saves in 41 attempts, there was an edge surrounding every one of his seven postseason outings. Some fans even lamented on the radio that he hadn't blown one before we got to that point, as if it was as inevitable as the calories in a cheesesteak. We were being set up again. Or so many of us thought.

"I remember thinking when it got into the 30s and even when we got into the postseason that I was just going to go out there and pitch," Lidge was saying from his Colorado home Wednesday. "I felt great pitching and I felt super confident and I thought, 'I'm going to do everything that I can. And if it's in the cards for it to keep going it will and if it's not it won't.' I didn't want to pitch any differently just to keep the streak. I was like, everything is working this year, we've got some incredible karma going. Just ride it out."

Now retired, Lidge had his own demons. As the Astros' closer in 2005, he surrendered a game-winning home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series and to Scott Podsednik in Game 2 of the World Series. It was his only postseason, and it haunted him as the 2008 postseason began, no matter how much he tried to block it out.

"The first game of that postseason, we were playing the Brewers. That's the only time I thought about the Pujols homer. Because it was the first time I was back in the postseason after 2005. And I remember in that game, I was thinking, 'OK this is your time to show that 2005 will not be your defining memory. Now is the time I can change that personally. But also, this team believes in you and they don't care at all what happened in 2005.'

"And once that game happened I was all right, 'This is going to happen.' I was 100 percent confident it would be different after that."

Maybe he was. But that final game . . . played out over 3 cold and rainy days? Here was the mess again, a World Series like no other, sucking your team's momentum just when it was on an unstoppable roll.

And here was Lidge again, ninth inning, tying run on second, facing Eric Hinske, a lefthanded slugger who had gone deep in his only other at-bat of the Series.

"I remember every pitch from that inning," he said. "Talking to Carlos [Ruiz], having Rich Dubee come out and ask what pitch I was going to throw. I remember every detail."

The detail that gets lost is the second-to-last pitch he threw. On an 0-1 count, Hinske started to swing, stopped, and the appeal went down to third base umpire Kerwin Danley.

If Lidge's perfect season were to be ruined, here was the perfect juncture for it to go sour. But Danley called it a strike, assuring that he would remain an anonymous official rather than an infamous one.

(This means you, Leon Stickle.)

"I remember my adrenaline jumped up another notch," Lidge said. "Because I knew at this point he was just not seeing it and that I had a really good slider and if I could throw a good one that I got him. It was one of those deals where I was getting more excited because it was that feeling like, 'I know I've got him.' And you're trying not to let it creep in your mind what that means, big picture. You realize if you get him, that's it."

He got him with a nasty, nasty slider that seemed to start in Center City and finish in Jersey. Hinske flailed. Lidge jumped. He landed on his knees. He disappeared under a mass of men, his ankle at one point near his head, his knee twisted painfully, foreboding a much less satisfying future.

"I was still trying to convince myself what just happened. We just won the World Series. It's so hard to explain it all. It was kind of this unusual moment of personal satisfaction yet being on a team so unbelievably in support of one another. And then being in the middle of these 50,000 people. I think even with our history, going into that last pitch everyone knew. And that made it an overwhelming feeling of exaltation."

And something to hold onto. Especially amid these imperfect times.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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