2010 MLB PLAYOFFS;NLCS BEAT;Papelbon can look to Lidge

PHILADELPHIA – For four years, Jonathan Papelbon was a dominant

ninth-inning force who safeguarded Red

Sox leads. Imagine, then, how

foreign it must have felt for him this season to blow a career-high

eight saves, notch a 3.90 ERA that was more than double his career

average and appear, well, human.

Brad Lidge need not imagine. He has lived it.

In 2008, Lidge finished 48-for-48 in save opportunities,

including 7-of-7 in the playoffs, for the World Series-champion

Philadelphia Phillies. Then, in ’09, he went 0-8, led the majors

with 11 blown saves and saw his ERA swell to 7.21. And while knee

pain and a torn elbow tendon conspired to poison his season, there

was another reason for his struggles.

Lidge lost his mojo.

It’s back now, and the Phillies are relieved. Lidge has returned

to optimal health and supreme confidence, showcased again last

night when he threw a scoreless inning during the Phillies’ 4-3

Game 1 loss to the Giants. He has yielded two earned runs since

Aug. 1.

And if Lidge can recapture his dominance, he’s certain that

Papelbon can, too, as long as the

Sox closer doesn’t lose faith in his

ability.

”For any closer, I think confidence is huge,” Lidge said

before last night’s game. ”Last year, I didn’t get the results I

wanted, and it definitely hurt my confidence. For me, you’ve got to

go through a couple games where you feel like you’re making

(hitters) look silly again, and then, all of a sudden, you’re like,

`Wait a minute, I don’t even remember why this was so hard.’ ”

During the season’s final two months, Papelbon often said he

believed his stuff, namely his splitter and slider, was as good as

ever. In fact, he had grown so comfortable with the splitter that

he threw it 21.7 percent of the time, an increase from 9.4 percent

in 2009, according to the statistical database FanGraphs.com.

If anything, Papelbon may have stuck with his secondary pitches

for too long when they weren’t as effective. He allowed at least

one run in each of his last four appearances and seven of his final

nine. Beginning with his career-high 48-pitch blown save Sept. 5

against the Chicago White

Sox at Fenway Park, he posted a

10.61 ERA in his last nine outings.

At times, Papelbon’s confidence must’ve been shaken. And if any

self-doubt had crept into his mind, it stands to reason that his

performance would suffer.

Lidge can attest that supreme self-confidence can aid a closer

in overcoming a dip in the quality of his pitches.

”I think you have to force yourself to believe in yourself

first,” Lidge, a fastball-slider pitcher, said. ”My fastball

didn’t quite come back like I was hoping it would this year, so I

had to force myself to know that it didn’t matter, that I was still

going to pitch fine and it was going to work. It’s easier said than

done, and it’s hard to know when that (confidence) turns over. . .

. Even if you’re going through a bad rut, eventually it will turn

itself, as long as you trust in yourself.”

Papelbon has plenty of reasons to remain confident. He is

eligible for one more round of salary arbitration and stands to get

a bump from the $9.5 million he earned this season to about $12.5

million for 2011.

Following next season, Papelbon is likely to be headed to free

agency. A return to dominance could net Papelbon an enormous

multiyear payday, even if it may come elsewhere, with the Red

Sox likely turning over the closer

role to Daniel Bard.

”We have confidence in (Papelbon),” general manager Theo

Epstein said. ”He’s got a little bit of work to do to get back to

the elite level where he was at. Being consistent at that elite

level is what it’s all about to close games in (the AL East). He

does it really well. He’s still a really good closer. He’s still

going to help us win games.” Lidge’s revival began when he started

believing that again. Papelbon could be well served to do the

same.

– slauber@bostonherald.com