DENVER -- The doors swung open, and he jogged in from centerfield as the faithful back home -- the ones still awake, that is -- held their breath as they watched. It was exactly 2 a.m. in Philadelphia. Seventeen hundred miles away, a cold chill whipped through the Colorado air in Coors Field; the temperature in the Mile High City: 24 degrees. And here was Brad Lidge, attempting to shut the door on the Rockies in Game 3 of the NLDS, his team clinging to a one-run lead.
And then the most improbable thing of this strange night in Denver happened: Lidge saved the game. Yes, there was drama; of course there would be drama. On two pitches, Lidge retired Brad Hawpe on a weak groundout, but then walked Carlos Gonzalez after an eight-pitch at bat. Jason Giambi popped out on a 92 mph fastball -- "his best pitch in months" a Philly scribe proclaimed in the press box -- before Todd Helton walked on five pitches, setting the stage for Troy Tulowitzki to fly out to left field on another 92 mph fastball. When it was finally over, when the coldest postseason game on record came to its merciful end, the Coors Field crowd of 50,109 went silent, four hours, six minutes after Jason Hammel's first pitch.
"I was starting to get that feeling again that things were going to go right," the embattled closer said after the game. "When the postseason starts, it's a whole new slate."
The story of the night, besides the Lambeau-like weather? The Phillies bullpen, believed to be a glaring weakness, held the Rockies to one run after the fourth inning of the 6-5 thriller. After a short night from starter J.A. Happ, the Phillies got six strong relief innings, allowing two runs. Can Lidge do it again? No one knows, but for one night, at least he resembled the closer the Phillies relied on last year.
It seemed early that this game would more resemble a Coors Field slugfest circa 1999, pre-humidor, than a pitcher's duel. In the first inning, Chase Utley took a fastball over the heart of the plate and drilled it over the fence in right center field. One pitch later, Ryan Howard bludgeoned another fastball high and deep to right, a jaw-dropping blast that, alas, landed foul. The game's two starting pitchers, Happ and Hammel, combined for 151 pitches -- and neither lasted past the fourth inning.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel managed the game with the same white-knuckle urgency he did in Game 2. Clinging to a 5-4 lead in the seventh, with no outs and men on first and third, Manuel tapped his best reliever, righthander Ryan Madson, the pitcher that the baseball cognoscenti had assumed would be Manuel's ninth inning option given Lidge's struggles. In the seventh Madson -- the ninth pitcher of the night -- blew a 96 mph fastball past Todd Helton for a strikeout ("A huge out," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said), gave up a sacrifice fly to Troy Tulowitzki that tied the game, then struck out Yorvit Torrealba on another 96 mph fastball. Madson did his job; Manuel, it seemed, had made the right call, going to his best arm with the game on the line.
After pinch-hitting for Madson in the eighth -- in his spot, Matt Stairs struck out with two men on and two out -- Manuel turned to Chad Durbin, who pitched a perfect eighth to preserve the tie. The play that will haunt the Rockies: with one out in the ninth, Huston Street's throw to first on Utley's check-swing infield dribbler pulled Helton off the base and allowed runners on the corners. Howard's deep fly to left scored Rollins for the 6-5 lead.
It's on to Game 4 on Monday -- the Denver forecast calls for a high of 55 -- as the defending champs trot out a lefthander to start for the fourth straight time in this series. Philly's Cliff Lee, who will try to continue his postseason magic against Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez, has never pitched in Coors Field, and with the Phillies one game from another NLCS, he doesn't plan to change his game plan in the thin air. "Everyone hears that breaking balls don't break as much, that the ball travels further, all that stuff," he said on the eve of his start. "But I'm not going to really buy into it. I'm going to pitch my game."
The Phillies certainly hope he does. One more win and it's on to the NLCS, where the Dodgers -- and sunny skies -- await in SoCal.