Brad Lidge has found a successful post-career venture as a host on MLB Network Radio. Part of the reason he was given that opportunity is because he was one of the best closers of his era. The other is that he has a pretty funny personality. Those two parts of Lidge apparently converged just before the finest moment of his 11-year major league career.
Deep in his letter announcing his retirement on The Players’ Tribune, Ryan Howard shared a funny story about the moments just prior to Lidge closing out the 2008 World Series.
With a runner on second and one out, Lidge nearly gave up a game-tying hit to Ben Zobrist, who scorched a ball into right field. Luckily for the Phillies, the ball was hit right at Jayson Werth in right field and hung up just long enough for him to put away the second out of the ninth inning. With the Phillies one out away from a World Series title, the Rays introduced Eric Hinske as a pinch-hitter, prompting Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee to make a mound visit. According to Howard, it wasn’t a mound visit without comedy, although the comedic timing may have been a bit off:
But the moment that I remember the most vividly — it’s the moment before the moment. It’s the top of the ninth, two out, the Rays pinch-hitting Hinske for Bartlett….. and we see Dubee coming out to have his talk with Lidge.
So then obviously the whole infield comes in.
And now we’ve got ourselves a little party of seven: Myself, Chooch, Chase, Jimmy, Pedro, plus Dubee and Brad. At first we’re going through a little rundown, you know, the usual stuff: If he’s going to beat you, make him beat you away. That sort of thing. But then, after a certain point, that’s it for strategy, and you’re really just there to talk about what matters. That gut-level stuff.
Dubee looks at Lidgey, real cool, real calm. “Hey — how you feeling, big boy?” And Lidgey is in his zone, you know, quiet but focused. “Good. I’m good.”
And at this point, I mean, you really have to know Brad. Lidgey has this reputation as a serious guy, this stone-cold killer on the mound, and all that. But he’s also got some of the best, subtlest comedic timing of anyone I’ve been around. It’s that sort of barely-there sarcasm that goes over 95% of guys’ heads….. but when you get it (and sometimes you won’t get that he was joking until much later) — Lidgey’s the kind of guy who’ll have you laughing for days.
So anyway, Dubee, he turns to Brad, and he’s like, “You ever faced this guy before?”
And Brad, real flat, real collected, he’s like, “Yeah.”
Dubee goes, “How’d that work out?”
Then Lidgey looks up, and gives the six of us the quickest look. I’m telling you: the quickest look. The whole six of us. Then puts his head back down. And then in the calmest, most deadpan voice I’ve ever heard in my life, he goes: “He waffled me.”
Howard would go on to explain that getting “waffled” was a euphemism used in place of saying a pitcher got obliterated in an at-bat.
Not only had Lidge’s history against Hinske not gone well, but in one prior at-bat in the World Series, Hinske hit a towering home run off of Joe Blanton over the center field wall. Now the Los Angeles Angels hitting coach, Hinske put together a pretty solid 12-year major league career. He won the 2002 American League Rookie of the Year Award while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2010, he would hit a crucial pinch-hit home run for the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. And 2008 had been one of the finer seasons of Hinske’s career, as he had hit 20 home runs and 60 RBIs for Joe Maddon’s squad
We also know that despite being one of the era’s best closers, Lidge was rather volatile. Though he had gone 47 for 47 in save attempts in 2008 up to that point, he had barley squeaked out some crucial saves late in the season. It took a tremendous double-play started by Jimmy Rollins to hold off the Washington Nationals and clinch the National League East. After eight brilliant innings from Cole Hamels in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS, Lidge flirted with disaster against the Milwaukee Brewers in the ninth inning before finally nailing down the Phillies first playoff win in 15 years. We know how quickly things turned for Lidge in 2009, when he blew eight saves and posted a 7.21 ERA. And up to his at-bat with Hinske (and perhaps even after it), the most notable moment of Lidge’s career had come while pitching for the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, when he allowed Albert Pujols to hit one of the more iconic home runs in recent memory.
So while Lidge’s quip may have received a few chuckles, it’s not difficult to imagine it leaving some of the Phillies infielders with an uneasy feeling as they trotted back to their positions. Frankly, any time you’re one out away from winning a World Series but one swing away from losing the lead, that type of feeling comes with the territory, regardless of who is on the mound.
But a funny thing happened when Lidge finally squared off with Hinske. Hinske hit a weak foul ball down the first base line to open the at-bat. On the second pitch, Hinske failed to check his swing. And then on the third pitch? Lidge’s slider waffled Hinske, clinching the second World Series title in Phillies history.
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