Saying Goodbye to Brad Lidge

He wasn't always perfect, but in 2008, he was the best thing that ever happened to the Phillies

Before becoming a Phillie prior to the 2008 season, Brad Lidge was most recognizable if he was grimacing and peering over his shoulder, as if he were watching an opposing home run exit the Earth’s atmosphere and get trapped in its gravitational pull like a global positioning satellite. The man gave up so many monster home runs that I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that he was a Russian spy left over from the Cold War tasked with tossing out moonshots to be used as the last U.S.S.R. space experiments.

So, when the Phils gave the Astros outfielder Michael Bourn in exchange for an injured, psychologically dented closer who was probably on Albert Pujols’ Christmas card list, I was less than thrilled.

In Bourn, I saw an everyday center fielder for the next decade. A guy who could bat .290 and steal 50 bags a year (he batted .294 and swiped 61 bases in 2011). Every time he reaches base it’s as good as a double. A guy, who could, if you asked him to, patrol left-center field by himself while you moved an extra guy into the infield

In Lidge, I saw a rattled closer coming off of knee surgery—turning Kensington into a neighborhood with the safety and allure of Rittenhouse Square seemed like a smaller project at the time.

Brad Lidge’s performance in 2008 would be people’s Exhibit A in a case proving why I’m writing this column and not handling personnel moves for the Philadelphia Phillies. Lidge went perfect that year. He went 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA and earned 41 saves in as many opportunities. He was so good it was as if the entire city could watch eight innings of baseball and then go to sleep. When Drowning Pool’s “Soldiers” played, everyone knew it was over.

But, after 2008, “Lights Out Lidge” sounded ironic more often than it should have. The energy it carries just isn’t the same when it comes before Lidge balking in the game-tying run or bouncing balls past Carlos Ruiz. At times it was like he was inventing ways to lose—the Thomas Edison of blown saves.

For Lidge—and the Phils and their fans—the past few years have been riddled with could-haves and what-ifs. As each season faded, just barely beyond the reach of the team’s grasp, it became clear that 2008 was a miraculous one-time thing. The kind of perfect, pop-up storm created by timely hitting, solid defense and a lights-out bullpen that can nullify a 28-year drought and an ill-advised trade.  Also apparent over the last few seasons was that, if the Phils had found a way to stave off temporary extinction, Brad Lidge wouldn’t have been the man dropping to his knees on the infield grass, being tackled by Chooch and mobbed by teammates.

No, more accurately Lidge would be one of the guys sprinting out of the bullpen, congratulating Lee or Halladay or Madson on a job well done and joining in late on a celebration that would already be half a minute old.

And so it go goes that Lidge enters the free agent market. Maybe he comes back for something like $3 million for one year. Or maybe he’ll sign with another team and raise the collective blood pressure of its fan base with his erratic fastball and over-used slider that fools hitters into swinging at dirt or comes out flat and ends up in some guy’s lap out in left field. But, he’ll probably fill a role as a serviceable reliever or setup man somewhere.

I wouldn’t be sad to see him go because he might not be what the Phillies need in the immediate future. And with the prospect of Jimmy Rollins vacating his spot at the top of the lineup, it would be really nice to have Bourn hitting first and playing outfield at Citizens Bank Park.

But, every time I hear “Soldiers” I still crack a quarter-smile as I forget about the Yanks in ’09, the Giants in 2010 and how in 2011 the best team in baseball dropped a five game series in which Roy Halladay started two games.

I think about the 48 times Brad Lidge didn’t let this city down. I think about that final pitch, Lidge dropping to his knees and looking skyward as if he were reenacting a scene from Platoon and the parade a few days later.

Lidge’s value may have withered, and the Phils may be in the city’s doghouse right now, but—regardless of where he plays his 2012 home games—the man should never have to buy a beer in this city again. We’ll always have 2008.