Amidst all the rumors and anticipation of the Winter Meetings, some Phillies related news broke on Sunday – former closer Brad Lidge is hanging up his cleats and calling it a career. Lidge is second only to Tug Mugraw of famed Phillies closers, both holding the distinction of finishing off a World Championship in Philadelphia. The image of Lidge striking out Eric Hinske, jumping for joy, then dropping to his knees in celebration will be forever burned in the minds of Phillies fans everywhere.
That fateful 2008 season was remarkable for Lidge, not just for his post-season, but his historic regular season as well. Brad earned the moniker “Lights-Out-Lidge” after going 41-41 in save opportunities with a miniscule 1.95 ERA. Lidge was brought in by GM Pat Gillick to replace the cantankerous Billy Wagner, who left for Queens chasing a big pay day. It was fitting that he replaced Wagner in Philly, as he had done the same in Houston when Wagner left town.
Lidge’s ascendance into Phillies lore was by no means a foregone conclusion. The last two seasons in Houston for Lidge were anything but lights out. After helping the Astros reach the World Series in 2005, his ERA ballooned to 5.28, dropping to 3.36 in 2007 but still struggling with the long ball. Many in the industry described Lidge as shell shocked, falling victim to the emotionally crippling home run he gave up to Albert Pujols in the 05′ NLCS. While the Astros went on to defeat the the Cardinals, Lidge was a noticeable different pitcher after that blast by Prince Albert.
Lidge came to Philadelphia as a risky investment, particularly given that he cost the Phillies a promising young speedster named Michael Bourn (who could soon return). Gillick’s gamble on Brad Lidge paid off, but his tenure in Philly wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. As good as 2008 was for Brad, the following season was tragically bad. His 7.21 ERA was comically high, almost unbelievable to anyone who just read the box scores. For all the fans tuning in to watch the Phillies defend their World Series title Lidge was a liability every time on the mound. His once un-hittable slider just spun in the strike zone for hitters to mash left and right. When he wasn’t giving up home runs, he was walking the bases loaded. Despite all of that, the Phils still returned to the World Series.
His final two seasons in pin stripes were more Lidge-esque, however they were marred by injuries and long stays on the disabled list. He lost his role as closer to Ryan Madson, and then only managed to pitch in 19 innings in his final season. He could have walked away then, but Lidge was determined to show the league and himself that he still had something left. He signed with the Nats last year, but couldn’t shake the arm troubles. He isn’t the first pitcher to have his career dictated by arm troubles, and certainly won’t be the last.
For all the injuries and the huge swings of success and turmoil, Lidge had an extremely successful 10-year career. He racked up 225 saves, pitched in three World Series, and took home a ring. Despite the sour note he left on in Philly, I will forever remember the 2008 Lidge. When he threw that slider past Eric Hinske in Game 5 I jumped for joy, and dropped to my knees in unison with the closer. As a fan born after 1983 this was my only taste of a Philadelphia championship and Phillies World Series title. On behalf of Phillies fans everywhere, thank you Brad Lidge – there is a spot on the wall of fame waiting for you.