Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ad Ode to Brad Lidge

One of the last pieces of nostalgia from the Philadelphia Phillies' 2008 World Series run has moved on, as reliver Brad Lidge, the closer on that team, signed a one-year contract this week to play for the NL East rival Washington Nationals.

Lidge struck out Eric Hinske for the final out of the '08 Series, bringing a championship to the City of Brotherly Love for the first time in 25 years -- exactly 100 agonizing sports seasons since the '83 Sixers won one -- and dropped to his knees in one of Philadelphia sports lore's most iconic scenes.

Oct. 29, 2008. Greatest. Night. Ever. (Top 3 at least)

He's now a shell of his former self and not the same pitcher he was when he earned the save in 48 straight appearances in the regular season and playoffs.  As good as he was in 2008, Lidge was just as bad in 2009 with an ERA over 7 and 10 blown saves. While he rebounded a bit in 2010, he lost the closer job to Ryan Madson in 2011. He can't stay healthy for an entire season, and while his slider still bites like a rabid dog, his fastball sits in the high-80s now rather than the 93 m.p.h. at his best, and hitters lay off the slider and wait for that hittable fastball.  He'll have a role in Washington, something he lost with the Phillies.

What's troubled me is the response from the worst of Phillies fans when news of the signing hit. Instead of it being "Thanks for the memories and good luck, Brad" it was, "Dude sucks, good riddance, Washington's problem now." This is from the same group of people who dubbed him "Lights Out Lidge" in 2008, when it was 'game over man' the moment he stepped out of the bullpen.

So many Philadlephia fans across all sports are guilty of being 100% results oriented. (If you looked at rap sheets they're probably guilty of other things, too) Look, sometimes you get beat at your best. Mitch Williams threw a great slider down-and-in to Joe Carter in 1993; fate had it that he golfed it into the seats. Brad Lidge brought a scowl and swagger to the mound in 2008 that screamed, "You will not beat me." You could tell it rubbed off on pitchers like Madson, J.C. Romero, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels, and everyday players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell and (now current teammate) Jayson Werth.

Siddown, Hinske.
As quickly as he had it, he lost it, and that's the only thing the idiots remember. They forget that THE MAN BROUGHT YOU A TITLE. And while he was struggling and frustrated, he never ducked away from the attention, and was probably as frustrated as the fans.

Okay, okay, I'm a little biased here. I first met Brad Lidge in Class A ball when he was about a year removed from being the Houston Astros' first-round draft pick. He was on the Kissimee Cobras, a team I covered in my old job at the Osceola News-Gazette. He had a nagging elbow injury that kept him off the mound. I was in their clubhouse interviewing his teammate who had thrown the organization's first perfect game the night before. After that wrapped up I saw him listening to much of the conversation and I talked to him for a few minutes and, even at age 22, was a pretty engaging guy. He finally got healthy and was rolling along as a starter, when one night he got nailed by a line drive that broke his pitching arm, I think I yelled, "No, not Lidge!" or something. (Talk about fate; that was one of his last career starts. After that he became the reliever we all witnessed turn into a big-leaguer.) Later on, I'd end up seeing and talking to him again during Spring Training when he made the Astros'40-man, then the active 25-man roster, and and he always remembered that first conversation. Every other time I heard him talk when in the bigs, he always struck me as a class guy. On his departure from Philadelphia, he simply deserves better from the fans.

His reaching the end of his contract and signing elsewhere makes me realize how long ago Oct. 29, 2008 really is. Burrell, who hit a leadoff 7th inning double that led to the winning run in Game 5 of the series, is gone. So is Romero, who got the win in that game. So is Myers. And Werth. And Madson. And Jamie "Father Time" Moyer. And, sadly, so is Harry Kalas.

Turn out the Lights, the party's over. Well, until someone throws another one. (um, Flyers?)

Oh, what the hell. One more look can't hurt ...

There's also this one for those who really want to reminisce.

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