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10 years later, Brad Lidge talks ‘battling’ through 2009

Brad Lidge remained the Phillies closer in 2009 despite struggles. (Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire)

Brad Lidge doesn’t shy away from talking about the 2009 season. The Philadelphia Phillies will honor the 10-year anniversary of their National League pennant winning team this weekend, and Lidge will be in attendance at Citizens Bank Park. He says he’s excited to see Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre and some of his former bullpen mates. He always looks forward to returning to Philadelphia, which he calls “his second home.”

But the 2009 season wasn’t the shining moment of Lidge’s career. A year after going 48 for 48 in save attempts in 2008 – with the 48th finishing off the Phillies second World Series title in franchise history – Lidge blew 11 saves in 2009. In his age-32 season, Lidge posted a 7.21 ERA, 5.45 FIP and -0.8 fWAR.

“For me personally, it was a year in which I didn’t have the same success that I had in 2008,”Lidge said in an interview with Phillies Nation. “So I had to rely heavily on the other guys in the bullpen, and they were fantastic. It was kind of a grind of a season for me, but everything kept going well and we kept winning ball games and we made a great push at the end of the year and into the World Series.”

Lidge blew his first save as a Phillie on April 18, 2009 in an eventual loss to the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park. Despite Phillies fans recognizing that the Phillies may have just coughed up a potential early-season victory, Lidge heard some cheers after blowing the save – as a full-time closer, it took Lidge until his 79th regular season appearance in red pinstripes to blow his first save. Fans were appreciative of the moment.

Unfortunately for Lidge and the Phillies, appearances like this felt like the rule, not the exception in 2009. Lidge blew three save attempts in May of 2009. A stint on the injured list with a right knee sprain limited him to just four save attempts in June, but he blew two of those. July was the only month of the 2009 season that Lidge didn’t blow a save, but he still posted a 5.91 ERA in 10.2 innings that month.

Manager Charlie Manuel recognized that he may need to change course in the ninth inning, but Madson, the team’s only other real option, blew three of the six save attempts that he got in June of 2009. In an otherwise strong season, Madson seemed to have a mental block about pitching in the ninth inning, one that he wouldn’t kick for a couple more seasons.

And while general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made perhaps the defining move of that July’s non-waiver trade deadline when he landed reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, he didn’t gift Manuel with another late-inning reliever.

But the Phillies offense, which had four players hit over 30 home runs, led the National League with 820 runs, helping the Phillies to post a +111 run differential even in a season where Lidge and reigning World Series MVP Cole Hamels struggled. So the Phillies kept winning games – they won 93 regular season games in 2009 – and Lidge kept finding himself in high-leverage situations late in meaningful games.

“It really became a team effort at that point, because the other guys in the bullpen stepped up to get the job done. And I think really, we had such great chemistry on the team, where it was one of those years where I wasn’t performing well, but I also knew the rest of the bullpen needed me in there to get my job done however I could that year.”

Manuel’s patience with Lidge appeared to be rewarded early in the postseason. After Lee pitched a complete game in Game 1 of the NLDS, Lidge closed out one-run victories in both Game 3 and Game 4 to help the Phillies defeat the Colorado Rockies. Propelled by a scorching-hot Ryan Howard, the Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games in the NLCS for the second consecutive season, with Lidge recording saves in Game 1 and Game 4 and finishing off the 10-4 clinching victory in Game 5.

Any memories of what had been a productive postseason was erased in Game 4 of the World Series, though. With Lee tossing an iconic complete game in Game 1 of the World Series, and the New York Yankees taking Games 2 and 3, it took until the fourth game of the series for Lidge to appear. It would be the only time he would take the mound in the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies entered the top of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series with a chance to change the entire complexity of the series. The game was tied 4-4, and while the Phillies trailed the series by a game, Lee was authoring an all-time great postseason and set to take the mound in Game 5. But the Phillies weren’t able to navigate through the ninth inning.

Lidge got eventual World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to pop up to start the inning, and followed that up by striking out future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. But Johnny Damon laced a two-out single into left field, with was the beginning of a pretty wild two-out rally.

With Damon on first, Mark Teixeira came to the plate for the Yankees. The switch-hitter was batting left-handed against Lidge, which proved to be a major detail. The Phillies shifted against Teixeira, which became relevant went Damon successfully stole second, realized that third baseman Pedro Feliz received the ball at second base and won a footrace to third base. Lidge then hit Teixeira, before allowing consecutive RBI singles from Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.

The Yankees won Game 4 by a 7-4 score. While the Phillies won Game 5 in 8-6 fashion, it was Madson, not Lidge, that closed out the game. Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera would close out Game 6 (and the series), leaving the Phillies two games from winning a second consecutive World Series title.

There’s lots of “What ifs?” regarding the 2009 World Series, but the Yankees had a lineup full of perennial All-Stars, a rotation anchored by CC Sabathia at his peak and the greatest closer of all-time – they may just have been the better team. And on top of Lidge, Hamels allowed five runs in his lone World Series start. Pedro Martinez, literally making the final two starts of his career, made two starts in Yankee Stadium in the World Series after not signing with a team until July. Howard struck out 13 times in 23 at-bats. With the exception of an all-time series from Chase Utley – who hit a record-tying five home runs that series – the Phillies didn’t get much in the way of offensive production. Ditto for the pitching beyond Lee.

Rather than worry about what may have been if all of those things came together, Lidge says it makes him appreciate how special 2008 was even more.

“It’s really hard to win back-to-back World Series titles, or even a couple. No one has done it since the Yankees (who won three straight from 1998-2000). I think we were good enough to win more than one for sure, but it takes more than just being good. It takes everything breaking right at the right time also. So yeah, you look back and say ‘Man, those were some great teams, maybe we could have won another one,’ but thank God we got one of them done.”

As an athlete, you’re often taught that in a season where just about everything goes wrong for you as an individual, you should complete flush the season away and never look back. 10 years after the fact, Lidge is thankful for 2009. It’s easy to appreciate a season like 2008, both from an individual and team perspective. But he says the trials of 2009 gave him an even greater appreciation for the lifelong bonds that he made in 2008 and will rekindle this weekend.

“[In the 2009 World Series], we came up a little bit short. But for me, I still have great memories of that year. I think for me, the friendships that I made in 2008, those guys really became great friends in 2009, through thick and thin.”


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