Thursday, August 17, 2006

That Homerun Has Warped My Fragile Little Mind

Oftentimes a player can't pinpoint the exact moment when their career started declining. Usually it occurs over a number of years, and culminates in a season when the desire is still there, but the body just won't function like it used to. With Brad Lidge however, that might not be the case.


Yesterday, Astros GM Phil Garner said that he was going to remove Lidge from the closer's role, and use a closer-by-committee approach. This was after Lidge had given up the tying run in the top of the 9th inning to Cubs leftfielder Matt Murton. From October of last season throughout this season Lidge has seemed shaky. He doesn't appear to be the confident game winner that he once was, and it probably has a lot to do with a single moment in time that occured on October 17, 2005.

During the 2004 postseason, Lidge pitched fairly well. Against the Braves in the NLDS he pitched 4.1 innings, converted a save opportunity and had an ERA of 2.08. The Astros beat the Braves in that series. In the '04 NLCS, eventhough Houston eventually lost to St. Louis 4-3, Lidge pitched 8 innings, converted two saves and finished with an ERA of 0.00 and one win.

In 2005, Lidge continued his success in the postseason. In the NLDS, again against Atlanta, he pitched 4 innings, and posted an ERA of 0.00. In the NLCS, where he faced the Cardinals again, Lidge pitched fairly well until Game 5. In Game 2(he didn't see any action in Game 1) he pitched two innings, only giving up one hit and getting the save. In Game 3, he pitched one inning, gave up one earned run, and earned the save. In Game 4, Lidge pitched one inning, surrendered two hits, and earned his third straight save. The Astros had rattled off three straight wins, and until the top of the ninth inning in Game 5, looked to be in control of the series.

What happened at that moment in time may very well be the turning point in Brad Lidge's career. He had managed to get the point where there were two men on, two outs and Albert Pujols at the plate. All Lidge had to do was get one out, and the Astros were on their way to the World Series. His first pitch started the count 0-1, but the next pitch would forever be seared into the minds of both Astros and Cardinals fans. Albert Pujols unloaded on that second pitch, and hit a bomb that, had there not been a roof on the stadium, might be circling the Earth to this day. Lidge turned to see where the ball was going to finally fall back to Earth, but he already knew it was gone. He stood for a second, then crouched down as if he was trying to become the smallest person in the stadium. Most people probably forget that Houston won the next game 5-1, and advanced to the World Series.

However, in the WS Lidge didn't pitch particularly well. In Game 2, he gave up the winning homerun to Scott Posednik. In Game 4, he pitched two innings, gave up one earned run, and was the losing pitcher. The Astros were swept in the series, 4-0.

This season Lidge has seen his ERA balloon to 5.70, he's failed to convert five of his save chances, and he's given up eight homeruns(he gave up 5 and 8 for the total season in '04 and '05 respectively). He's also allowed 34 earned runs, which is almost double the amount he allowed all of last year(18).

Obviously, Brad Lidge isn't the dominant closer that he once was. It may be that he needs a change of scenery, or that this is something that will torment his psyche for a number of years. Unfortunately for Houston fans, Lidge will probably never have the same success in an Astros uniform as he once enjoyed. And that moonshot that Pujols delivered in October of '05 most likely has something to do with it.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it was the Pujols homer that warped Lidge's psyche. I'm more inclined to say it was the Podsednik homer in the WS. Think about it. You expect Pujols to hit homers like that. But Scott Podsednik? He of 0 homers in the regular season and one fluke on in the ALDS? That would mess with my head WAY more.

Anonymous said...

People forget that Lidge would've blown game 4, if not for two straight brilliant defensive plays behind him, one by Morgan Ensberg to cut Pujols at the plate, and the Bruntlett-Everett-Berkman double play to get Mabry and prevent Walker from scoring, and was maybe two feet from Eckstein looping in a game-tying single that would've blown game 3.

My working theory is that Lidge hurt himself sometime between the end of September and Game 3 of the NLCS, because Lidge's big problem this season hasn't been mental, he's usually 3 MPH slower on his fastball and slider than usual, and honestly there's a difference between throwing 94 and 97.

BDoc said...

I could see the Podsednik homer adding to his frustrations. Before the Pujols homerun, Lidge had faced him 14 times, and only allowed 3 hits(no HR's). Pujols is known as a powerhitter, but that shot quieted the entire stadium and eventually won the game.

I remember those defensive plays, especially the Ensberg one. Though there is a bit of a difference between almost losing the game on a hit to third base, and actually losing an NLCS game on a homerun that was crushed.

I do think that Lidge might have suffered an injury as well as he's had minor issues with his shoulder and elbow.