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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Brad Lidge, the perfect closer? Um, strike that

Lidge didn't blow a save last year, and got the last out in a World Series-clinching victory. He blew 11 this year, and took a loss Sunday that put the Phillies in a 3-1 hole in the 2009 Series. He was one strike away but couldn't convert.

November 02, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

PHILADELPHIA — These can be the saddest of possible words: One strike away.

Defeat found Brad Lidge one more time this season, perhaps for the last time.

He was baseball's perfect closer last year. A generation of Philadelphia fans had lived for the moment when Lidge dropped to his knees last fall, when the Phillies had become World Series champions for the first time in 28 years.

The Phillies had been one strike away. Lidge got that strike, and bedlam reigned.

The Phillies were one strike away Sunday night, not from winning the World Series but from heading to the bottom of the ninth with the score tied. With one big hit, the series would be tied.

One strike away.

And, now, one loss away. The Phillies are one defeat from done, one loss from a winter in which the lingering image for their fans might not be Lidge dropping to his knees in triumph but Lidge failing to get that last strike, that last out.

That could make his winter a long and disappointing one.

"That would be disappointing for everybody," he said. "We're here to win. Everybody would be disappointed if we don't win."

Lidge lost again, in a lost season for him. He never blew a save last year, in 48 tries.

He led the major leagues in blown saves this year. He had 11, in 42 tries. No one else in the National League blew more than seven. The Phillies held open tryouts for the closer job in the final week of the season, then reinstated Lidge when they could find no one better.

He was warming up in the eighth inning Sunday, in a strangely quiet ballpark. The New York Yankees were one strike away from Mariano Rivera, with two out, none on and a 4-3 lead.

Joba Chamberlain threw, at 97 mph. Pedro Feliz hit, over the left-field fence. Tie score.

Bedlam reigned.

It was the sound of a season springing back to life.

Lidge inherited a 4-4 tie. Hideki Matsui popped out. Derek Jeter struck out. Lidge got two strikes on Johnny Damon.

One strike away.

Damon had fouled off three sliders and worked the count full, so Lidge threw three fastballs. Damon fouled off two, singled on the third.

"They normally tell you to look fastball because, if you sit [on the] slider, it would be too tough to catch up to a fastball," Damon said. "But I felt like his slider made me look silly on a couple pitches, so I just kept sitting slider and just reacted to the fastball."

On the first pitch to Mark Teixeira, Damon took off.

Lidge did not expect Damon to run, not so soon.

"Not on the first pitch," Lidge said.

With the infield shifted for Teixeira, that left third baseman Pedro Feliz to take the (late) throw at second -- and left third base open for Damon. He just kept going, and Lidge did not react nearly soon enough to cover the open base.

"It becomes a foot race," Lidge said. "He's faster than I am."

Lidge hit Teixeira. He insisted he was not rattled by Damon's stealing second and third on the same play, by the winning run looming 90 feet from home plate.

So up stepped Alex Rodriguez. Fastball, strike one. Fastball, game-winning double.

"I felt like, being on third base, it possibly takes away a slider," Damon said, "a tough slider in the dirt that I may be able to score on."

Lidge said Damon's presence on third did not spook him from throwing a slider to Rodriguez.

"We would have gone to sliders real soon," Lidge said. "We should have gone to it sooner."

The Yankees scored twice more, so then the Phillies got Rivera anyway. He did what he does best, what Lidge could not do Sunday, what Lidge did not do so many times this season that his manager all but used his closer's failures as a rallying cry.

"We've blown 22 games from the seventh inning in or something this year," Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's got to tell you something about the resilience of our team."

Lidge wore a red T-shirt, blue shorts and flip-flops, answering every last question in a calm voice, reluctant to acknowledge the magnitude of this failure.

"It's one game," he said. "These are all very important games. I don't mean to try to downplay that. You know there's another game tomorrow. We've got to win."

They were one strike away. They might never get there again, until 2010.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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