LOS ANGELES -- While Joe Torre was ringing up World Series trophies during those heady days with the New York Yankees, no small part of his reputation for brilliance was the direct result of having lethal closer Mariano Rivera at his disposal as the leaves fell from the trees each autumn.
With a ninth-inning beast waiting in the bullpen, a manager generally winds up rated somewhere between smart and ingenious on the October scale. That reminder again was delivered when the Dodgers opted to leave closer Takashi Saito -- still dealing with the aftereffects of a sprained elbow -- off of their National League Championship Series roster this week.
|Everyone in Philly knows how important Brad Lidge has been this season. (Getty Images)|
Now, as the series swings west for Game 3 on Sunday with the Dodgers in a hole, it is Phillies' pilot Charlie Manuel whose baseball IQ is on the launching pad. Lidge has had a summer worthy of strong consideration for the NL Most Valuable Player award, and if the Phillies can continue to position themselves to hand the ball to Lidge -- something the Dodgers have yet to do with Saito's replacement, the capable Jonathan Broxton -- they stand an excellent chance of seizing only their second World Series title in club history.
"I knew he was nasty," Phillies infielder Greg Dobbs says. "I didn't know he was this nasty."
"He's been our backbone, to be honest with you," Phillies second baseman Chase Utley says.
Lidge, acquired from Houston last offseason in one of general manager Pat Gillick's finest moves, converted 41 of 41 save opportunities this summer, two of two against Milwaukee in the divisional series and, so far, two of two against the Dodgers.
"He's been the best in the National League as far as I'm concerned," Manuel says. "I mean, who is better than he is? He's been perfect."
With a heat-seeking fastball and what might be the game's best slider right now, Lidge, 31, has been devastatingly dominant in his first season in Philadelphia. It is a lesson not only in the blessings of talent but, perhaps most importantly, in the virtues of persistence when negotiating the mental side of the game.
This isn't the first time Lidge has aced the closer's role in an NLCS. In 2004 with Houston, he scooped up two saves, fanned 14 batters and surrendered only one hit while holding St. Louis scoreless in four appearances.
But it was against those same Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS that Lidge encountered severe turbulence, the kind that can wreck the careers of those who lack inner fortitude.
One out away in Game 5 from securing Houston's first World Series berth, with the Minute Maid Park crowd every bit as frenzied as the ones backing Lidge in Philadelphia this week, Albert Pujols belted a monstrous three-run homer to send the series back to St. Louis.
Once the shock wore off, the Astros first tried humor to help their closer deal with what they feared could be a monumental scar on his psyche. On the charter flight back to St. Louis for Game 6, Houston catcher Brad Ausmus impishly delivered a script to the cockpit.