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Lidge pulled in ninth, but remains closer

Lidge pulled in ninth, but remains closer

WASHINGTON -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had been fighting this move for weeks, but closer Brad Lidge forced his hand in their 5-3 win over the Nationals on Tuesday.

Manuel had no choice.

The Phillies had lost four consecutive games entering Tuesday's series opener against the Nationals, and Manuel needed to stop the bleeding. The Phillies entered the ninth inning with a two-run lead, and Manuel called upon Lidge for the save. Manuel told reporters before the game that he had confidence in Lidge, but that his patience had limits. Lidge, who is 0-7 with a 7.11 ERA and a Major-League leading 10 blown saves, needed to start producing consistently with the postseason less than a month away.

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"There comes a time when, I don't know ... " Manuel said. "We're trying to win a championship."

That time came Tuesday.

Lidge allowed a leadoff single to Wil Nieves and a fielder's choice moved him to second. Lidge hit Willie Harris with a pitch, then threw a wild pitch to put runners on second and third. Lidge walked Cristian Guzman to load the bases.

Manuel had seen enough. He took the ball from Lidge's hands and handed it to Ryan Madson, who retired the next two batters on six pitches to get the save.

"That's a tough call," Manuel said. "I have all the respect in the world for Brad. I know how good a closer he is, and I know how great he can be. I've still got all the confidence in the world in him. But I'm sitting there and I didn't have a very good feel about the game. And I made up my mind that I wanted to try Madson. Things will work out and be OK, but at the same time, it's real tough."

Madson declined to speak to Lidge's struggles, but said he was prepared to pitch in that situation. It looked like it.

Manuel said he continues to have confidence in Lidge, but his actions spoke differently.

"Let me tell you something," Manuel said. "When I tell you he's my closer, I don't tell lies. I don't like to go back on nothing. But the team and the game is bigger than my heart, and it's bigger than anything else, if you want to know the truth. Winning a game is what it's all about. It's baseball and why I manage and it's what comes first."

Asked who will close Wednesday if there is a save situation, Manuel said Lidge could be the guy. But Lidge said Manuel told him in his office after the game that he would get the shot.

"If there is a save situation tomorrow, he said he was going to bring me in," Lidge said. "Just keep grinding and hopefully this month I'll be able to get it together and be ready for the postseason."

Why?

Probably because Manuel realizes this team has its best chance to win if Lidge is right, and because the Phillies have a six-game lead in the National League East they can afford to continue to try to get him fixed. But Tuesday's move is a clear sign that time is running out.

"We're in first place," Lidge said before the game. "Unless catastrophe strikes, we're heading to the playoffs. My mission is to get myself as good as I can be for the playoffs and to do the things that I can do in the postseason. That's what September is going to be for me: Getting locked in. I've been having three good outings, one bad outing. Three good outings, one bad outing. I'd like to get to the point where they're going to be all good.

"At some point I'll look back and say, 'Man, that was a crap year.' If September goes well and I throw well in the postseason then I'll be happy with the year. I really will. Because that's the goal right now."

So far, Lidge's September has not gone as planned. He picked up a save Thursday against the Giants. He blew a save Saturday against the Astros and he got pulled before he could blow one Tuesday against the Nationals.

"Some things definitely haven't gone his way," Manuel said. "He's had some tough luck and things, but he's been inconsistent. He's inconsistent with his pitches."

And that must change quickly.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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