I was hoping to dedicate this article solely to last weekend's series against the New York Mets, but once again, the continuing subject of “what to do with Brad Lidge” has raised it's extremely ugly head out of a murky pile of tobacco juice.
Last night, the Phillies, after staging a wonderful rally and pulling ahead in the top of the ninth at PNC Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates, quickly found themselves with another “L”, courtesy of Lidge's Major League-leading ninth blown save. It took him all of five pitches to give up three runs and secure another top spot in the Major League statistical standings of worst ERA among relief pitchers: 7.33. I've said it before here on this website, but this HAS to be it. This must be the final straw. It is inexcusable to lose a game like this. The Phillies entered Pittsburgh with the notion of mercifully dispatching a last place team and maintaining their lead in the N.L. East. *knocking on wood* If the Phillies decide to pretend it's 1964 and let either the Marlins or Braves back in to the race, I'm going to refer back to this game… and the other eight while I'm at it.
Once again, the ridiculous notion of “set-in-stone” roles is weighing heavily into manager Charlie Manuel's decision to keep throwing Lidge out there:
“'He's got to stay with it,' Manuel said. 'He's got to keep going. I mean, what the hell? That's all we can do. … That's where we're at. That's our closer. I've said that all along. That's the guy we give the ball to in the ninth inning.'”
“That's all we can do”?! Seriously? You have one of the best bullpens in the Majors and the idea of maybe putting him on the DL with a phantom shoulder problem, Cat Scratch Fever or ANYTHING hasn't popped into your head? Sure, the other guys in the pen aren't closers in the classic sense, but you know what? They don't have ERA's higher than normal shoe sizes. Charlie has no problem shaking things up every now and then. Jimmy Rollins doesn't hustle down the line? Benched. A 47-year old, 257-game winning lifetime starter not getting the job done effectively? Send him to the bullpen. It's time for Manuel to step up again. I've always been an opponent of the handling of closers with kid gloves because of their “high-pressure situation”. Brad, we will always be in debt to you for 2008 and we truly hope for you to rebound, but you are the number one liability on this team right now. Relinquish your spot.
Now you want to talk about “high pressure situations”? How about utility man Eric Bruntlett? Here's a guy who never knows when he is going to be coming in to a game, if ever. When he does, it could be for any situation… pinch hitter, pinch runner, late inning defensive replacement, or a part-time replacement for an injured or struggling player at a variety of different positions. There's no warm-up time or no pitching schedule. At a moment's notice you have to get up, go on the field and do your job. Bruntlett has played a vital role these last two seasons, but recently has struggled at the plate. Sunday afternoon, he took over for Chase Utley at second base to give the All-Star a day off. What does he do? He goes 3 for 5 with a run scored and one huge historic defensive play.
Does he get a theme song when he enters a game? No. Does he get awards for excellent bench play? No. He's a grunt. Just like everyone in the bullpen…
On to happier, simpler times…
Other than Friday's night's showing of the Curious Case of Cole Hamels, the Phils looked strong and confident, taking three of four from the New York Mets in Queens.
(Seriously, did Bobby Brady find a tiki and give it to Omar Minaya as a gift in Spring Training? I have never seen so much misfortune in one season. Like a friend said, “the Mets season has turned into a horror movie…where all the people at camp get picked off… one… by one… by one”.)
The highlight, of course, was Sunday afternoon's unassisted triple play by Bruntlett to end the game. This one had it all… Pedro Martinez making his return to NYC in a Phillies uniform, Mets starter Oliver Perez being yanked in the first inning… during Pedro's at-bat, Mets light-hitting outfielder Angel Pagan hitting two home runs (one an inside-the-parker because Shane Victorino kept calling for the ball to ruled dead after getting lodged in the outfield wall), and of course, the triple play.
Not surprisingly, the game was a real nail-biter just because of the presence of Lidge on the mound. OK OK, the runners were technically not his fault because of a couple fielding errors, but I'm sure his mojo spread to the rest of the players… yep, that's it.
Close your eyes Bryan. Breathe… breathe. They are still seven games up. Ohmm… ohmm…
OK, I feel better.
(is Lidge still there?)
About the Author
Written by Bryan Sargent
Bryan Sargent is a lifelong Phillies fan, currently residing in the least hospitable city for such a person as himself, New York City. This coming January he will be attending Phillies Phantasy Camp in Clearwater, FL. He is currently documenting the entire process on his blog (http://www.bryansargent.com). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @BTSargent.