They had this one.
They had it then they blew it in spectacular fashion.
Brad Lidge blew his Major League-leading ninth save of the season in a 6-4 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park. The Phillies took a one-run lead in the ninth inning thanks to back-to-back doubles from Carlos Ruiz and Ben Francisco to score the tying run, and a triple from Shane Victorino, which Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen badly misplayed, to score the go-ahead run.
But then Lidge walked to the mound and the Phils' comeback efforts unraveled in just five pitches. He allowed a leadoff single to Luis Cruz, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Brandon Moss laced a single to right. Jayson Werth bobbled the ball and slipped as he tried to throw the ball into the infield, which allowed pinch-runner Brian Bixler enough time to race around third base to score the tying run and Moss to advance to second.
McCutchen then crushed a 94-mph fastball for a two-run home run to win the game.
"We've had some tough losses," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We've had some similar to that."
But the visitors' clubhouse could not have been more quiet afterward. Jimmy Rollins, who hit two solo home runs on two pitches in the first and third innings, sat in the chair in front of his locker with his hands on his head. Victorino sat quietly, fiddling with his cell phone. Joe Blanton, who worked out of several jams in six innings, went over his start with Chad Durbin. Chase Utley, as usual, glued himself to the laptop, where he studied film.
Lidge just sat and stared into the back of his locker.
He is 0-6 with a 7.33 ERA, which is the highest ERA of any reliever in baseball. It is 0.81 earned runs higher than Cleveland's Jose Veras (6.52 ERA). Lidge has blown saves before, but this one really seemed to bother him more than the rest.
"Today is frustrating," he said. "I want to get out there and compete and get those guys out. Unfortunately today I just didn't have enough in the tank, I guess. ... I didn't have anything on the ball tonight. The fourth day in a row for me historically has been pretty bad. I wasn't able to make an adjustment today and I just didn't have anything on the ball. I need to be able to make an adjustment if I threw four days in a row."
|A look at Brad Lidge's career performances when pitching on a fourth consecutive day.|
|1-2, 2 SV, 3 BS, 10.80 ERA|
Lidge had pitched four consecutive days six previous times in his career: He is 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA (three earned runs in five innings), two saves and two blown saves in those appearances. But in Lidge's four most recent appearances pitching four consecutive games -- twice this season, once last season and once in 2007 -- he went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA (zero earned runs in 3 2/3 innings) and two saves. The other two appearances, which came in 2005 and '06, he allowed five hits and three earned runs in 1 1/3 innings.
Lidge threw a combined 35 pitches in his previous three games against the Mets at Citi Field: 11 on Saturday, nine on Sunday and 15 on Monday. He also warmed up Friday in the series opener, but Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee felt Lidge could get through the Pirates' lineup because he threw so few pitches the previous three days.
"The last pitch I tried to throw was a two-seam [fastball] to try to get a little movement on it and it didn't do anything," Lidge said. "It just ended up being a fastball right down the middle, basically. Tonight, it just wasn't there."
McCutchen said he thought he might be asked to bunt Moss to third in that situation. Once he learned he could swing, he said he just wanted to hit the ball to the right side of the field.
"I was like, 'Hit it to the right side. Hit it to the right side,'" he said. "He gave me a good pitch and I still hit it to the right side and it went out."
Phillies fans have become growingly impatient with Lidge, who went 48-for-48 in save opportunities last season, including the postseason, but Manuel gave his closer another vote of confidence.
"He's got to stay with it," Manuel said. "He's got to keep going. ... 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."
Manuel also offered Lidge some words of encouragement in the clubhouse after the game.
"Stay in there," he said. "Hang with 'em."
Lidge remains the closer for now, although one has to wonder what happens if Lidge continues to struggle and Brett Myers returns and pitches well. There will be a remarkable amount of pressure -- even more than Lidge most certainly feels -- to turn around his season at that point.s