I still remember the silence. It was October 2005, Game 5 of the NLCS between the Cardinals and Astros, and I was standing in the back of the press box at Minute Maid Park in Houston, shoulder-to-shoulder with other sportswriters readying for the postgame stampede to the media-only elevators. The scoreboard read 4-2 Houston, ninth inning, two outs, 0-2 count. Game Over, in other words.
Then, just grisly silence.
Though Pujols' 3-run shot forced a Game 6, the Astros still advanced to their first World Series two days later. Lidge's nightmare, though, had just begun: he was lit up by the White Sox in the Fall Classic, had a dreadful year in '06, lost the closer's job in '07, and was sent to Philly last winter (then-Astros GM
Now here Lidge is again, back in the NLCS for the first time since '05, on the heels of a splendid regular season. But forget that he was a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities in the regular season. Forget that he was this year's NL Comeback Player of the Year. Forget that he's saved three of the Phillies' four wins so far in the postseason. Fair or not, Brad Lidge won't convince everyone that he's come all the way back until he blows his slider by a new Pujols in a new pressure cooker moment in the postseason-whether it's against
Lidge, of course, has always maintained that his career collapse had nothing to do with that one hanging slider- "My struggling was a combination of things," he says, "it was more that my mechanics got out of whack than anything else" -but even he knows that whether he's forever linked to the Pujols home run will be determined by his performance in this postseason. "I don't want my career just to be defined by one pitch," Lidge said last week. "I look at it this way: it happened and it's made me, I think, more mentally tough right now, here in the playoffs, because I've been there before. But I do want to get back to the World Series and win it and have that to be the last image in my mind for the postseason."
Lidge, who enters games at Citizens Bank Park with the scoreboard blinking LIGHTS OUT LIDGE, didn't exactly live up to his nickname to start October. In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Brewers, he escaped a harrowing ninth-inning jam. Lidge had barely exhaled when
"I've never been that guy," Lidge said.
Quipped Rollins, "It's never too late to start."
After the game, Lidge joked to reporters, "I'm going to have to buy everyone some Pepto." Since Game 1, though, Lidge has been close to lights out. He noticed early on that Brewers hitters were laying off his signature slider, so he simply overpowered Milwaukee hitters with his mid 90s heater. In Game 1 of the NLCS, his slider was back, and it looked as filthy as ever. "You still have to call him one of the best closers in the game," said L.A. third baseman
Whether it does could determine whether the Phillies win their first World Series since 1980-and whether Lidge can at last put the The Pujols Home Run behind him.
In other words, keep the Pepto close, Philly.