What do the Phillies do…..with Brad Lidge?


Brad Lidge

Brad Lidge

The bookends of his five consecutive saves had him blowing back to back games against the Yankees and the Dodgers. The Phillies just placed him on the 15-day disabled list. But is Lidge really hurt?  Is he tipping his pitches? Has he fallen off of the mountain again? And most importantly, should Charlie Manuel keep him as the closer?
     I must admit that when Rafael Furcal stepped into the batters box against Brad Lidge Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t totally comfortable with the Phillies chances of winning. After all, how could you when you witnessed Friday night’s fiasco: the Twilight Zonish two-out nightmare. However, with Furcal 0 for 9 in his career off of Lidge and not having hit a home run all season left handed, I thought our chances were pretty decent of him keeping the ball in the park. 

     Despite the fact that he has surrendered six home runs this season (just a third of what he gave up last year) entering Saturday’s game, the one thing I wasn’t thinking was a home run. Almost every patron in the restaurant where I was eating expressed the same sentiments. Most of their remarks were very loud and inappropriate. Some of the blame was unfairly directed at Jayson Werth, who reportedly missed the ball sail over the fence as a result of an ill-timed jump.  Say what you want, but there is absolutely no way Furcal should be hitting a ball that deep. 
     Let’s be honest, we knew Lidge wouldn’t be perfect this season. But did you expect him to be this inconsistent?  None of us did.  Not only is this worrying for a Phillies team who is focused on trying to repeat as World Champions, it’s very disheartening for Lidge. We all know what he overcame the last three seasons to bring the Phillies to the promised land. He was one of the best stories in all of baseball last year.  Many thought that he had gotten over the hump which precipitated his decline in Houston.   To the top of the mountain, to the bottom, to the top again, and now somewhere in between can probably best describe the whirlwind of emotions that Lidge is feeling right now.   Let’s start with the questions:
1. Is Lidge hurt? 
    Many have speculated as far back as early May whether Lidge was 100% healthy. Recently it was revealed that Lidge wears an orthopedic in his shoe. The pain, if not completely subsided, was now tolerable when he pitched.  This afternoon, the Phillies placed him on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 7th.  According to GM Ruben Amaro Jr.  Lidge reportedly is not happy with this decision and has recently gone on record insisting that he is fine. Being the gamer that he is, chances are Lidge wouldn’t let on anyway if he is hurt or not. 
2. Is he tipping his pitches?
    Lidge’s velocity was down prior to wearing the orthopedic.  Now his velocity on his fastball has been clocked consistently in the 94-95 range.  Pitch selection more than anything was to blame for the “A-Fraud” game tying home run in New York. Also take into consideration that the Yankees got some cheap hits.  But Rafeal Furcal?  Still can’t figure this one out. Now just because the Phillies won it all last year doesn’t mean that we are forever spared form the unexpected. That may have been just a fluke, but the home runs off Lidge have been more frequent than infrequent this year.  There has been some speculation as of late that perhaps he is tipping his pitches.  A closer usually has two pitches, and Lidge (fastball and slider) is no exception. This was reportedly happening during Lidge’s time in Houston, so the possibility isn’t totally out of the question. Andre Eithier isn’t half the player that he thinks he is, and it seemed like he was swinging the bat before Lidge’s pitch to him even left his hand on Friday night……….
3. Is it in his head?  
    There have been rumblings about Brad Lidge and his psyche for years. Just a quick recap: 2005 NLCS Game 5. Lidge against Pujols: Two outs, two strikes.  Three run MOONSHOT that is still travelling somewhere. Cardinals win 5-4.  Although the Astros won the pennant two days later, Lidge suffered through a horrible World Series, getting tagged for two of the team’s four losses in a sweep at the hands of the White Sox.   In 2007 Lidge lost his role as Houston’s closer. Although he eventually won it back, the Astros felt it was time for a change and Lidge was traded to the Phillies.  His tale of redemption in 2008 is not overshadowed by his performance in 2009, but one can’t help but wonder if his mindset secretly has wandered back to 2005. For the Phillies sake, they hope it hasn’t, or the team could be in for a long summer.  Lidge repeatedly shoots down any notions of a loss of confidence. To his credit, maybe he’s right. However, it seems to be a pattern all too familiar with him.
3. Should Charlie Manuel replace Lidge with Ryan Madson, at least for now?
     Absolutely NOT!!   The logical choice right now is to replace Lidge with Ryan Madson.  Bad move. If you think Lidge’s makeup may be damaged right now, what do you think it would be if you remove him again from closing games?  He could never recover, and this season is a wash. Truth be told, what Brad Lidge accomplished for the Phillies last year will allow me to die a happy man whenever my time comes. Chicago Cubs fans would give their left arm to watch their team win it all in person.  Let the record show that I (despite the fact that I knew he wouldn’t be perfect this year) am not happy with the way Lidge has thrown in 2009, and I don’t think anybody in the Delaware Valley (including Lidge) is happy either.  Simply put, the man went 41 for 41 in save opportunities last year (not including post-season) and he has earned the right to stay as the Phillies closer- for now.  Charlie Manuel has gone on record that he has no intentions at this time of removing him from his role.  At the same time, Manuel has to do what it best for the team, fragile psyche or not.  If this were the end of August, then they would have to seriously consider Madson. Then they run the risk of rearranging their seventh and eighth inning relievers and that would be barking up a totally different tree. My guess is that they want Lidge to work this out on his own and will only replace him if all hope is lost.
     For the record, I feel that Lidge in being unfairly trashed by local blogs.  The fact that people seem to be forgetting what he did for this team last year is as equally concerning as his performance this year.  I understand the frustration of fans because I share the same feelings.  I do however, believe we have to choose between a fine line of appreciation for Lidge and also anger and disappointment for 2009. Do I have visions of Mitch Williams dancing in my head if the Phillies once again reach the World Series?  Right now I would have to say it’s crossed my mind.  One image overtaking that however, is Lidge dropping to the ground after striking out Eric Hinske last October. The Phillies need to do the right thing to better the team, and they will when they feel the time is right. There are only one of two men who have closed out World Series Titles for the Phillies in their 126 year history. Brad Lidge is one of them. The Tug McGraw of our generation gave us a lifetime of memories last year that nobody will ever forget.  After all, he helped us achieve something that 100 other Philadelphia sports teams couldn’t do. We may not be thrilled with Lidge right now, but at this time he needs our support.  And we owe Brad Lidge at least that.

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