Phillies Nation

Ryan Howard Month

Brad Lidge recalls trying to out-eat Ryan Howard, getting walloped after 2008 World Series


Ryan Howard is one of the greatest players in Phillies history. (Christopher Szagola/Icon Sportswire)

Before Tampa Bay Rays pinch-hitter Eric Hinske came to the plate in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee wanted a mound visit. The Phillies had a scouting report to review.

The whole infield joined in. Dubee asked Phillies closer Brad Lidge if he’d ever faced Hinske before. “Yeah.” Dubee asked what he threw. “Fastball,” Lidge said. Dubee asked how it worked. “Well, he waffled it over the wall, to right-center field.”

Right then, on the mound at a packed Citizens Bank Park, in Game 5 of the World Series, with two outs and the tying run on second, with the most important Phillie in that moment reflecting on prior misfortunes against a hitter he was now tasked with retiring to clinch a title — Ryan Howard burst out laughing.

“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Lidge told Phillies Nation more than 13 years later. “But then when I saw Howie laughing, I realized it was kind of a funny thing to say at that time, because it made it seem like maybe I didn’t have all the confidence in the world … It was just kind of funny to see Howie laugh at that point. And then it made me more relaxed as a result of it.”

A couple minutes, three sliders, zero fastballs and one relaxed closer later, Lidge got pummeled. It came from the first-base side by a charging Howard — all 249 pounds of him — and the two hit the ground as world champions. 

“Chooch and I were embracing out there in front of the mound, and then all of a sudden, I just get this takedown coming in from my left there, kind of out of nowhere,” Lidge recalled of Howard’s hit. “I just remember being on the bottom of that pile and more and more and more dudes just jumping on top … I couldn’t really breathe, but I was still screaming for joy.”

After the dogpile, Lidge and Howard found each other and exchanged a less painful (particularly from the closer’s standpoint) and more respiration-accommodating hug. 

It was, of course, the culmination of a postseason run that saw the Phillies clinch their second ever World Series championship, and Howard and Lidge were at the center of it. But through the latter’s memory, during that run, Howard — despite the loudness of that celebratory moment, and the loudness of all the attention on the slugger — came off as a pretty quiet guy in the clubhouse.

“Everyone wanted a piece of him,” Lidge said. “He had so many demands upon him and his time, and that made him a little bit more quiet because I don’t think he likes saying no. But you have to be able to say no when you’re getting that many requests [mass autographs, for example]. So he did a good job of keeping his focus on the game of baseball.”

That focus paid off. Because one thing about 2008 Ryan Howard that was anything but quiet?

His bat.

Admittedly, Howard hit a brief lull in the NLDS and NLCS before exploding in the Fall Classic. There, he slugged an absurd .762 — even after an 0-for-4 Game 1 — and his three home runs across Games 3 and 4 set the stage for the clincher. 

It came after a regular season in which the Big Piece cranked 48 big flies and finished as the National League MVP runner-up. But while Howard was one of three players to receive first-place votes, he still wasn’t the only Phillie, because the votes that didn’t go to him or Albert Pujols went to an unorthodox candidate: Lidge.

41-for-41 on save opportunities in the regular season, Lidge received two of the 32 available first-place votes — a rare accomplishment for a closer, especially in the modern game — and finished eighth in the MVP voting. Lidge was adamant, though, that there was never any smack talk between the two teammates about those results. “We both just recognized that we had great seasons,” he said.

There was, however, some competitive fire (at least from Lidge) regarding a quality of each that was also anything but quiet: their appetites. Prompted for his favorite Ryan Howard stories, whether during or after their four years as teammates, Lidge always went back to the sushi nights.

Particularly memorable was a night where he, Howard and about 10 teammates reserved a table at a restaurant in San Francisco and “ate that place dry of sushi and rice.”

“I’ll tell you what — Howie and I could both throw it down. So the bills would be extraordinarily high. We weren’t afraid to get after it,” Lidge said. “He might not even know this, but I almost felt competitive with him when it came to eating because it was something I took a lot of pride in — probably too much, being able to out-eat just about anybody. But I mean, let’s be honest, he’s a big dude. He can throw it down.”

Those sushi nights were just a part of a strong off-the-field relationship between Lidge and Howard, which continued when the two came to Spring Training together as guest instructors before the shutdown in 2020. They talked about baseball — Howard’s philosophies on hitting, Lidge’s on pitching — as well as old teammates, team flights and, of course, sushi nights.

But there exists an alternate universe where none of those things happened — or the 48-for-48 season, or even the championship. While Howard was homegrown and climbed through the ranks of the Phillies’ farm system, Lidge was drafted by the Houston Astros in the first round of the 1998 Draft and joined the Phillies via trade in early November 2007.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but Lidge was particularly thrilled not just about who he was joining, but about the matchups he’d be avoiding by extension. He recalled having to use, as he put it, 110% of his effort to get through the Phillies’ lineup, and Howard was no exception. 

During one September road trip to Philadelphia in 2006 — the year Howard won the NL MVP Award — Lidge and his Astros teammates were raving over the lefty slugger in the bullpen. They likened a recent torrid stretch to Barry Bonds and agreed that their best (perhaps only) chance to beat Howard was by trying to jam him with a cutter in on his hands.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Astros reliever Russ Springer tried exactly that. A perfect pitch, Lidge said.

Howard hit it off the facing of the second deck in right field. 

“At that point, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy. Like, I don’t know how you get this guy out if he’s hitting that pitch too,’” Lidge said. “I was super excited not to have to face the Phillies. I promise you that much.”

The fact that Lidge’s epiphany on Howard came in the month of September is fitting. That month (considered alongside the occasional few regular season games in October) was consistently Howard’s best; his career .958 September/October OPS was his highest mark in any month of the regular season. 

That late-season production went a long way in helping the Phillies to their greatest five-year run in franchise history and, from Lidge’s perspective, it’s one of the more underappreciated aspects of Howard’s career. 

“It always felt like regardless of where the team was at the beginning of September, you knew Howie was gonna start getting hot. And he was gonna start hitting balls out to all parts of the ballpark. No matter what his swing was like or what was going on before then, in September, he was gonna be hot,” Lidge said. 

“I think that’s all you really could ever want from a player. To know that when your team is gonna be playing games that count in September, when everyone’s watching, when everyone’s worried about how many games you are out or how many games up, whatever — you knew you were gonna get your best Ryan Howard.”

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