MLB

Manuel's decision to back Lidge pays dividends

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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For all the struggles that Brad Lidge faced during the course of the regular season, the one thing he always knew was that manager Charlie Manuel had his back. Manuel, in an explicit vote of confidence, called on Lidge to close in a 6-5 victory against the Rockies at Coors Field. This was a far cry from the nightmare in Houston, where Lidge had as much trouble dealing with the double-talk of manager Phil Garner as he did National League hitters. It was Garner who proclaimed that Lidge was his closer going into the 2007 season, and then, after Lidge blew an Opening Day save, didn't give him another chance to earn a save for 57 days. Manuel has had to do his share of ducking and dodging through the struggles of Lidge in 2009, but he never forgot that 48-for-48 save season of a year ago that included seven postseason saves during the Phillies' journey to a world championship. Now Manuel did have a luxury this season. The Phillies moved atop the NL East for good on May 30. They were leading by eight games as late as Sept. 20, and had their lead cut to four games for only one of the final 54 days of the regular season — even without the spotless ninth-inning work of Lidge. Still, Manuel remained Lidge's biggest booster other than a relative. Manuel, after all, was convinced that if he continued to provide positive support for Lidge that Lidge would be there when the Phillies needed him the most — in October. Chalk one up for Manuel. Lidge got the call for the first time this postseason on a Sunday night that equaled the coldest night in postseason history. He responded with the save that gave the Phillies a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five series. "Charlie was awesome to me this year and it really helped out,'' said Lidge. It wasn't a work of art for Lidge on Sunday, but then not much has been for Lidge in a season in which he was 31-for-42 in saves, allowed 110 baserunners in 58 2/3 innings, and had a 7.21 ERA. But he got the job done. He threw 21 pitches, only nine for strikes. He faced five batters, and two of them walked. But after Carlos Gonzalez drew a one-out walk and stole second, Lidge got pinch hitter Jason Giambi to chase a 1-1 pitch up in the zone that he popped up. Then, after being careful with Todd Helton and eventually walking him, Lidge got away with a 1-0 pitch that Troy Tulowitzki felt was hittable, but wound up popping to the left fielder for the game's final out. On Monday, the Phillies have a chance to close out the NL Division Series in their bid to become the first NL team since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds to win back-to-back World Series. "When the postseason starts it's a completely new slate,'' said Lidge. It's Lidge's chance to make a statement that the knee problem which sidelined him during the season is no longer an issue. It's merely a matter of him throwing strikes, and catching hitters off guard with a cut-fastball, which Lidge has toyed with for sometime but only recently began throwing in the bullpen. He said he did throw it a few times in a game, even in his Houston days, but the comfort level was not there. But then again, Manuel wasn't there either. And Manuel has definitely worked to make Lidge comfortable in his own back-home approach. "It's not like I want to shoot him,'' Manuel said at one point when the vultures were circling Lidge. And there was the day Manuel proclaimed, "I know he'll get it back again. I just don't know when. Maybe in a day or two. Maybe a week or two. Maybe a couple seasons. But I can tell you he's going to get it back and be tough again.'' And the actions reinforced the statements, including the gesture in the Phillies' NL East clinching 10-3 victory against Houston on Sept. 30. That marked the day when Manuel brought Lidge in to get the final out. It was a moment that many felt was Manuel's way of making sure that Lidge knew his value to the team. "Charlie does that with everyone,'' said Lidge. "He makes sure they know their role, and he makes sure they understand their role. It's one of his strengths.'' But then the way the Phillies bullpen has been this year there are not a lot of options for replacing Lidge. It's been a constant string of turnovers in the effort to find a late-inning solidarity. "But it is not about me,'' said Lidge. "It's about our bullpen. We each have a job. Some of us have jobs we like better.'' And it was a bullpen effort on Sunday. Starting pitcher J.A. Happ was gone after three innings, and his replacement, Joe Blanton went 2 2/3 innings. Four other relievers combined to get the final 10 outs, the final three by Lidge. The Phillies biggest concern — the bullpen — became a strength, at least for one game.
Tagged: Reds, Phillies, Rockies, Jason Giambi, Todd Helton, Brad Lidge, Joe Blanton, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, J.A. Happ

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