Brad Lidge, Phillies fans will be forever grateful
The moment he dropped to the ground and my dad screamed “We did it! We did it!” like a jovial child on Christmas morning will never leave me for the rest of my life.
All those summers at The Vet in 100-plus degree heat watching Phillies teams who lost 90-plus games. Staying up and not doing my homework while listening to the radio in my bedroom. Having been sold a bill of goods that players like Brad Brink, Cliff Brantley, Al Pardo, Steve Stanicek, and Alex Madrid were going to take the Phillies to the next level. The heartache of Joe Carter in 1993. Decades of hopelessness.
The payoff? October 29th, 2008. And Brad Lidge helped make it all happen.
It was a foregone conclusion that Lidge would not be returning to the Phillies in 2012, but it finally became official Thursday, when Lidge signed a one-year deal with the Nationals. With his departure, only the second pitcher to close out a World Series championship for the franchise that has suffered more losses than any team in the history on baseball, is moving on.
When Lidge first arrived in Philadelphia in November 2007, it was considered a decent trade despite giving up promising outfielder and speedster Michael Bourne. The Phillies wanted to move Brett Myers back to the starting rotation, and nobody knew if Tom Gordon’s shoulder could take anymore pounding. That’s not to say however, that there weren’t reservations about Lidge’s arrival.
By then, everybody knew of Lidge’s trials and tribulations after Albert Pujols took him deep in Game 5 of the 2005 NLDS. Phillies fans really didn’t know what Brad Lidge they were getting, but there are rare moments when even Philadelphia sports fans get pleasantly surprised, and this was one of those times.
Lidge went on to have arguably the most important season of any player in Phillies history in 2008. 41 for 41 in save chances during the regular season, and 7 for 7 in the post-season. Sure, there were multiple occasions where he was bailed out of jams (Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley’s double play for the ages), but he got out of it every time, leaving Phillies fans to believe that maybe for once, just once, things could be different this time around.
In saying that, any fan who tells you there was never a doubt in the ninth inning of Game 5: Part Deux is a liar. Not because we doubted Lidge, we had 125 years of anger and a 48-hour rain delay that made even the most sane Phillies fan wonder if we were truly destined to somehow blow this thing. Then, Dioner Navarro hit that single, pinch-runner Fernando Perez stole second base, and Ben Zobrist ripped that line drive to Jayson Werth that took 25 years to land.
Never a doubt. Right?
Just minutes later, Lidge struck out Hinske and was tackled by Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard, tears of joy were shed, and after the initial shock that judgment day was not upon us, Philadelphia went ballistic over a sports team for the first time in a quarter of a century. Lidge was vindicated, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. He finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting, got some Cy Young Award votes, won the NL Comeback Player of the Year, and became a father for the second time that December. This is your life, Brad Lidge.
Unfortunately, it all ended as soon as it began, there would be no encore, and Lidge was never the same pitcher again.
If 2008 was a fairy tale for Lidge, 2009 was a nightmare for him that not even Freddy Krueger would want a part of. Another knee injury, an 0-8 record with an ERA over 7, and one ninth inning meltdown in Game 4 of that year's World Series that gave the Yankees a commanding 3-1 series lead basically describes Lidge’s season in a nutshell. Just as soon as he quieted his naysayers, they were out in full force once again. Only in Philadelphia.
After elbow surgery, Lidge finished strong in 2010, but missed almost all of last season with another injury. He returned late in the summer, but by then the mileage on his fastball had decreased, Ryan Madson was now the closer, and he finished out the year as a long inning man out of the bullpen. Although Ruben Amaro Jr never closed the door on Lidge returning, the writing was on the wall. Lidge doesn’t have closer’s stuff anymore, he's always had trouble holding runners, and if you guess right on him, it can lead to mixed results.
In saying that, Phillies fans who do not wish Brad Lidge the very best of luck because of his post-2008 performances should be banned from entering Citizens Bank Park for the rest of their natural born lives.
Am I exaggerating? Not a chance. What we witnessed on that October night three years ago has only happened one other time in the long-suffering history of the Philadelphia Phillies. To put things in perspective, that’s twice in a century and a quarter!! Not as rare as Halley’s Comet, but pretty damn close.
Do you know how fortunate and lucky every Phillies fan was to have seen them win a championship? Hell, Cubs fans might never see that. And come to think of it, it’s possible we might never see it again, either! It’s damn near impossible to win in this town, but Brad Lidge helped pull it off. Sure, it’s frustrating that the team hasn’t won another title since then, but look at the Eagles. That should quiet everybody.
For many, Brad Lidge is the Tug McGraw of this generation. His leap culminating in his embrace with Chooch is just as iconic as Tugger’s leap in the air. When he returns to Citizens Bank Park, he’d better get the loudest ovation that any ex-Phillie from that team has received since their departure.
You fulfilled a lifelong dream of watching my team stand on top of baseball’s highest mountain, Brad Lidge. And for that, I am forever grateful.
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Contact Joe Vallee at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Lidge photos: mlb.com,csnphilly.com