Brad Lidge, Phillies Finding That '08 Feel
"The last couple of months he's been pitching like the guy of '08," Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino told FanHouse on Tuesday.
"He's looking very good from center field. ... Even I was like, 'Oh (shoot).' "
The rest of the National League should be (shooting) its pants.
The Phillies (magic number, six) have almost everything clicking, extending their season-long winning streak to nine games with a 5-3 victory Tuesday over the Braves.
Their top three starters are all pitching like aces. The lineup is without Jimmy Rollins (hamstring), but has scored 117 runs this month, second most in the National League.
Add to that a dominating Lidge -- one reminiscent of, if not exactly duplicating, the perfect version of two years ago -- and the Phillies are the team to beat this postseason.
"It's no surprise to me," said Jayson Werth, who had a three-run homer Tuesday, "here we are again, middle-to-late September, we're surging, making a run at it. Everybody in here feels like we're the best team in baseball, and we want to prove it.
"I think we're poised and set up nicely for the rest of the year."
Philadelphia is 17-3 in September, and seven of those wins -- including ones the past two nights that pretty much relegated Atlanta's playoff hopes to the wild card -- were saved by Lidge.
"That was as good as I've seen him in a long time," one scout said after Lidge dispatched the Braves 1-2-3 on 11 pitches in Monday's ninth inning.
"You can't pitch any better than he did," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.
"He looked as good as I've seen him," manager Charlie Manuel said.
Lidge has finally regained his plunging slider, which breaks downward so sharply that it looks to hitters like a split-finger fastball.
"Guys just don't see it," said Roy Halladay, who went seven innings Tuesday to become the Phillies' first 20-game winner since Steve Carlton in 1982. "They don't see it.
"He's a guy that no matter how many times you face him, you just don't pick it up like you think you would. I think a lot of guys, obviously, are going up looking for it, and they still don't have a chance."
Add to that the fact that Lidge is feeling that he can command his fastball, which for him is his secondary pitch, and even though his velocity isn't what he had in 2008, he is nearly as effective now as the closer who was 48-for-48 in saves chances then, including 7-for-7 in the postseason.
Making the Phillies even more dangerous for October.
"It does a hell of a lot for us," Manuel said.
For Lidge, this season has really been three seasons.
He pitched in just six games the first two months as he recovered from offseason surgeries on his right knee and right elbow -- injuries that caused him to put up a 7.21 ERA last year.
"I was just trying to scrap to get back," he said.
After opening the season on the disabled list and going back on for three weeks in May, Lidge needed June and July to get back in pitching shape, gaining arm strength and ironing out mechanics.
"I was kind of in spring training, trying to get my location and command back," he said.
The last third has been brilliant.
Since Aug. 1, Lidge is 15-for-16 in save chances with a 0.87 ERA, .346 OPS allowed, 22 strikeouts and nine hits allowed in 20 2/3 innings.
"That's when it came around, when I was starting to get consistent work," he said. "And I felt healthy."
Not coincidentally, in that same span -- 48 games -- the Phillies have allowed a team to come from behind to win just once.
For Lidge, getting his knee healthy was just as important as his elbow. When the push-off knee was bothering him, Lidge tended to sling his slider sideways, leading to a hanging spinner or a horizontal break that stayed in the hitting plane.
Now he can stand tall on his back leg and drive down over the top, getting that bottom-drops-out action on the slider. He can throw it for a strike, or he can throw one that appears to be a strike but breaks out of the zone.
Hitters see what looks like a fastball, swing at a fastball -- and miss the pitch by a foot.
"Tight rotation," Atlanta's Derrek Lee said, "and it comes out of the same (arm) slot (as the fastball). It comes out hard and kind of dives."
Lidge is throwing his fastball in the 90-93 mph range, about 2-3 mph slower than in 2008. But the fastball has life on it, and if he can throw it for strikes -- and unlike most pitchers, he has always had more trouble commanding his fastball than his slider -- then that's plenty of speed.
"I feel real good right now," Lidge said. "Everything's coming out of my hand kind of the way you hope it will at this time of year."
Manuel attributes Lidge's resurgence to mental health as well as physical.
"Brad's definitely a confidence guy," Manuel said. "When he feels real good, usually he performs well.
Manuel deserves credit for not giving up on Lidge after last year's struggles and this season's first two months (5.57 ERA, four blown saves in 14 chances, five homers in 21 innings).
"If someone has done it before, has a lot of experience, that's why it's good to stay with him," Manuel said.
"This is a game where when you've seen somebody do something, you don't forget that you (saw) that."
Right now, it's real easy to remember 2008.