The phrase “what have you done for me lately” has become somewhat of an anthem for Philadelphia fans.
And rightfully so it may seem, the sense of nostalgia and gratitude come to mind when referencing some of Philadelphia’s most notable athletes.
A little over three years ago, though recent, hardly counts under “lately” but in the case of Brad Lidge, it doesn’t really matter.
What Lidge did during the 2008 season, especially in the closing month of October, will always define his four-year tenure in Philadelphia, regardless how the final three years here played out.
Closers, much like the quarterback and goalie in Philadelphia sports, are a sore subject in Philadelphia. 1980 boasted the most beloved closer in Phillies history, Tug McGraw, while 1993 played host to the then villainous Mitch Williams.
There was Billy Wagner, the controversial lefty fireballer before Lidge, and Ryan Madson and newly signed Jonathan Papelbon after Lidge.
But smack dab in the middle is number 54, who like Tugger, will be remembered for his iconic celebration to close the final game of only the 2nd championship in 130 years of Phillies baseball.
Six blown saves in 2009, elbow and shoulder problems in 2010 and 2011 and a drastic drop in velocity on his fastball failed to define Brad Lidger’s tenure in Philadelphia.
Instead, how wonderful of a person he was in the clubhouse, his availability to reporters after every win or loss and his competitive drive will forever define the type of player Lidge really was.
Lidge was traded to the Phillies in the offseason heading into the 2008 season from Houston along with utility infielder Eric Bruntlett for future All-Star Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary and Mike Costanza.
It was a slow start for Lidge, who injured his knee in Spring Training and had to miss the start of the season. But the time missed was only about a week and Lidge was fully ready to take on the closer’s role.
Lidge’s slider proved untouchable as he allowed only two earned runs through the first two months of the season, closing all 12 games he entered with save opportunities.
Lidge was pitching so well that midway through the season, the Phils gave him a three-year contract extension, with a four year option for 2012 which was obviously declined. At the time, the Phils finally found that closer they sorely missed.
Lidge also made his 2nd, and likely last, All-Star appearance as well. At the break, Lidge saved all 20 chances and boasted a 1.13 ERA with 55 strike outs in 40 innings.
His second half numbers were nearly as strong, closing another 21 games and striking out another 37 to bring his season total to 92, his highest total with the Phillies.
The Phillies won the division late in the season once again, with Lidge getting his 41st save in as many chances. He got Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman to hit into a double play, created by a diving Jimmy Rollins, and the Phillies clinched their second straight division.
What happened almost a month later made Phillies fans cheer even louder. With two outs in Game 5 of the World Series, Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske stepped into the batter’s box. Lidge had already retired the first two batters and in his mind, Hinske was going to suffer a similar fate.
With an 0-2 count, Lidge used his most dangerous weapon to down the Rays.
A slider in the dirt that Hinske had no chance in touching, the arms thrown up in the air before dropping to his knees and the warm embrace with catcher Carlos Ruiz before the rest of the team bulldozed them.
That is the memory Phillies fans will forever have of Lidge. It’s a moment that defined a memorable season and a season that defined a memorable career in the city of Brotherly Love.
Happy trails, Brad. Thanks for the memories.