Watchers of Project Runway know that Heidi Klum tells us each week (several times each week) that, “in fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” The same is true in baseball. Just ask Brad Lidge.
My Philadelphia Phillies picked up Mr. Lidge in a trade before the 2008 season began. He is a closer—the relief pitcher who comes in, usually just for the ninth inning, of a game his team is winning whose job it is to seal the door and ensure the victory, to close the game by throwing unhittable stuff that renders the other team unable to mount a comeback. When the closer succeeds, he is awarded a save, a statistic as important as a win is to other pitchers. When the closer fails, he is tagged with a blown save, which is the baseball equivalent of the Scarlet Letter.
Lidge had been one of the game’s premier closers for the Houston Astros for a couple of years but then blew a save in the playoffs in 2005. That failure seemed to shake his confidence, though he later said that physical problems were the reason that his performance tanked in 2007. Whatever the cause, he lost his job as closer with the Astros that year, and the common wisdom was that he needed a change of scenery.
So the Phils, looking for a strong closer, picked him up in the 2008 offseason, and Lidge came through last year big time. During their championship season, he saved 41 ballgames out of 41 chances—a record of perfection that was the envy of every closer in the game and a marvel to behold. Yes, some of those saves were a bit on the sloppy side, with baserunners allowed and tough jams that caused anxious fans to gobble antacids. But he came through every time. Then, in the postseason, he saved seven more games in two playoff series and the World Series, including throwing the final strike in the game that gave the Phils the world championship.
He was on top of the world, and Philly fans loved him. “Lidge Saves,” said one sign at the team’s victory parade, and he was the toast of the town. This year, though, he’s just been toast.
Knee troubles caused mechanical difficulties. The incorrect arm angles that resulted led to pitches that don’t move. His fastball lost its hop, and batters laid off his slider, so devastating last year, and sat on the fastball. He's given up 11 home runs this year, compared to just 2 last year. Failure led to a loss of confidence and several blown saves. The team tried resting him, nurturing him, expressing unassailable confidence in him. Nothing worked.
The result: Lidge now has an ERA over 7.00, sports a miserable 0-8 record, and, most significantly for a closer, has blown 11 saves. Last week, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had to recognize the inevitable and remove Lidge from the closer role.
Where Lidge was the darling of the Delaware Valley in 2008, this year he has been an object of scorn. (Though the Philly Phaithful haven’t really given him the full-throated booing they are capable of. While many were ready far sooner than Manuel to demote Lidge from closing games, gratitude for last year remains, and his treatment has been more “ohhhhhhhhhhh” than “booooooooo.”)
What’s the point of this little jaunt through one man’s dream turned nightmare? (To make Mets fans happy? No.) It’s just a reminder of the impermanence of fortune, whether good or ill. The torment that Lidge lived through after the 2005 playoffs gave way to incredibly sweet success last year. But Fortune’s Wheel turns constantly, and this year has been, probably, even worse for poor old Brad than his worst times in Houston.
Perhaps the Wheel will turn again for him. Perhaps not, as the professional life of an athlete is even shorter than the life of a mere mortal. But it does turn for all of us.
In ancient Rome, it is said, when a conquering general was granted a triumph, a slave rode with him in his chariot. The story goes that the slave held a golden wreath above the head of the triumphal hero, representing the glory he had won, but also that the slave constantly whispered something in the general’s ear to remind him of his mortality, a beneficial reminder in the midst of such a heady occasion. (Perhaps Lidge heard such a voice during last year's victory parade.)
Apparently what the slave actually said is not well established among historians. Perhaps the slave pronounced the simple truth we do well to remember in times not only of triumph but also of tragedy. Perhaps he whispered “This, too, shall pass.”
Words © 2009 AtHome Pilgrim.
All Rights Reserved.