It seems very interesting that in the midst of discussing the possibility of Michael Bourn returning to the Phillies that one of the pieces that was acquired in the deal that sent him to Houston is making his exit from baseball.
Following the Phillies’ first playoff appearance in 14 seasons in 2007, Michael Bourn, nothing more than a defensive specialist to the Phillies that season, was traded to the Houston Astros with third base prospect Mike Costanzo and relief pitcher Geoff Geary for infielder Eric Bruntlett and closer Brad Lidge.
What Lidge did in 2008 was nothing short of miraculous. What the team did was something that only my parents had seen.
I was 16-years-old in 2008. And it is a year I haven’t forgotten and won’t anytime soon.
Lidge is planning to retire from baseball after 11 major-league seasons. He played just 11 games with the Washington Nationals in 2012 after spending four seasons and saving 100 games for the Phillies.
I knew I liked Brad Lidge from the beginning. He had a fire about him when he pitched. He was passionate about winning and the way he celebrated was something that I loved from day one.
I was sitting in the nosebleeds of Citizens Bank Park on the afternoon of September 27, 2008. The Phillies had a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals. The bases were loaded with one out for Ryan Zimmerman. Lidge had 40 saves on the season at that time. He had appeared in 40 save opportunities.
Zimmerman sharply grounded a ball up the middle that from my vantage point in the right-field upper deck looked like it was destined for centerfield. The ball suddenly disappeared into Jimmy Rollins’ glove. Knowing where the ball was, I screamed “two!” at the top of my lungs. The ball fluttered to Chase Utley waiting at second base. He fired to first. The ball was halfway to first when the ballpark started to collectively explode. Ryan Howard nabbed the ball out of the air in plenty of time. Double play, game over, and the Phillies had successfully defended the NL East title.
One month later, I was standing outside in my backyard on a cold October night. Brad Lidge was pitching again. It was Game 5 of the World Series. I wrote a first-person account of that night two years ago as part of a writing class during my freshman year of college. Here’s a snippet:
“Fans on their feet, rally towels being waved…Brad Lidge…stretches…the 0-2 pitch…”
The summer of my life had become the fall of my life. Watching baseball had been a passion for several years now, and after all the near-misses of previous years, the Phillies were back in the World Series. Growing up in Philadelphia, two of the best known words when it came to sports were failure and heartbreak. And while believing the whole way, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the hands of fate came down and snatched away whatever this Phillies’ team had that the others didn’t…
…For a few years, I experienced baseball games from my backyard, trying to fill the players’ shoes. If there was a big hit, I was swinging the bat, and feeling the same emotion that went into the real game. And if the game ended on a strikeout, I threw the final pitch, and celebrated the win. The same went for a loss. If the opponent won on a walk-off home run, I walked off the field hanging my head. This was one game I certainly wasn’t going to miss.
The next night, rain looked to spoil the game, but I completely ignored it all, and went out to the backyard. With all the logos drawn in chalk around me, and my computer serving as a scoreboard, I was ready for a special night, but somebody wasn’t. With the game tied at 2, and the rain pouring down from the heavens, the game could no longer be played, and moved to a rain delay. When my mom finally called me in, I was devastated. I had been outside for so many games that season, and I couldn’t miss this one. My parents almost had to force me into the shower to warm up from the cold and wet I had been out in for a few hours. I told them if the game started back up again, I would go back outside. Not knowing what they would do if I tried to return to my outdoor ball field, I waited for an answer. Was tonight still the night? No. My dad opened the door to the bathroom and yelled in the news. The game had been suspended; no championship tonight. School dragged on for the next two days. I didn’t want to wait any longer. It couldn’t rain any more than it had, could it? Finally, there came a clear night, and baseball was back on in Philadelphia. Tonight was the night.
Back outside I went, and waited as the Phillies were locked into the late innings of a crucial tie ballgame. And back and forth the game continued to go. The Phillies entered the eighth inning with the lead, and held it into the ninth. I could feel it now; three more outs. I’m not in the minds of the players, but I was putting my all into every pitch, just like they were. A weak pop up is the result of the first batter…one out. My heart is pounding. I’m incredibly excited at what is just moments away, but dramatically nervous about that “curse” haunting the Phillies – Philadelphia sports again. The next hitter floats a single into right field. Now the tying run is on base. Next batter: a line drive caught in right field. As I act out the play I take a deep breath and tally another out to the total…two outs. One more is all we need. I know that because of my baseball knowledge, right? No, at this point, I can only believe what Harry Kalas is telling me through a radio. Brad Lidge is on the mound…but I feel like this is my moment too. I fire the first pitch in; Harry’s voice grows with excitement: “ground ball up the first base line…but it’s a foul ball.” “That’s strike one,” I remind myself, and I try to keep warm. My legs are shaking so bad, I can’t even feel them anymore. With all the energy I have left, I fire another pitch toward the net a few feet away. “He went around!” I hear from the radio, and there are now two strikes. One more strike and it’s finally happened. Another slow motion moment happened next. I thought back to what I had said days earlier. An 0-2 slider would win the game. I believed every word of what I had told anyone willing to listen. That time was here now, and I set myself for what could be the final pitch of the season, setting up a slider grip on the ball. I’m going solely by the radio at this point, and follow suit with every word. “Brad Lidge stretches…” and I slowly begin to windup…”the 0-2 pitch.”
I had never thrown a slider like this one. The ball dipped more than any breaking pitch I’d ever thrown before. All I needed now was to know if it was the final strike. The words that followed were like the grand finale of a symphony. “Swing and a miss, struck him out!” Kalas proclaimed. The only word that came to mind was “Yes!” and it was the only word I could say for the next few seconds. My family poured out of the house and into the backyard. My neighbors laughed with joy. So many games had been played on my little backyard field, and finally there I was celebrating the greatest achievement.
Some people wait their entire lives to see a team finally win. But, for me, all four of my city’s sports team had made the finals of their sport in my lifetime, only to fall short. I had never seen a championship, and there it was at last. I often told people how I knew I would see someone win the big prize someday, but never expected the team that was so close to my heart to do it first. In just 16 short years, I had finally seen, lived a dream come true. It is still the greatest single game I’ve ever seen, and until the day comes when the Phillies should win another World Series, it will be the fondest memory I have; the day the city of Philadelphia, without a champion for so long, finally celebrated a champion.
That would be the high point of Brad Lidge’s career. He was never the same after his knees started troubling him and he was eventually granted free agency after the 2011 season, where he played a limited role.
But Lidge is a Philadelphia legend for that one perfect season. He is a Phillies legend for that one pitch. And to this day, I have several reminders of that night and the pitcher who delivered the final strike on the perfect season: an autographed picture of Lidge and Carlos Ruiz seconds after the final out, a Lidge bobblehead, a Lidge jersey with the 2008 World Series that I wear faithfully to Phillies games. And finally, I have a baseball, the same baseball I threw the night the Phillies won the World Series and the night that Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to do what felt so impossible.
So for that night, I want to thank Brad Lidge for allowing me and millions of other Phillies fans to live the dream, to be champions for one year. As much as I would love to see it happen again, and soon, no one can take away 2008. That year belongs to the Phillies. And a lot of it is because of Brad Lidge.