Wow, talk about some high drama. Tonight’s final three innings at Nationals Park had it all.
When the seventh inning began, the Nationals held a 2-1 lead over the Phillies, behind some brilliant pitching from John Lannan. But Lannan then crumbled, allowing three solo homers in the seventh (to Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz) and suddenly the Phillies had the lead.
Lannan was upset at himself for letting things get out of control there.
“I’ve got to learn how to slow the game down a little bit,” he said. “When it’s going good, I get into a nice rhythm. But when things go bad, I’ve got to learn how to kind of step back, take a little deep breath and tell myself I still have control. When you give up a homer like that, you have no control.”
Willie Harris homered off Pedro Martinez in the bottom of the seventh to get the Nationals within a run, but then Chase Utley clubbed his team’s fifth solo homer of the game with an eighth-inning shot off Tyler Clippard.
So the score remained 5-3 Phillies heading into the bottom of the ninth. That’s when Brad Lidge imploded yet again. The struggling Phillies closer loaded the bases with one out thanks to a single, a hit batter, a walk and a wild pitch. Manager Charlie Manuel, who earlier in the day had insisted Lidge was his closer no matter what, couldn’t take it anymore. So he pulled Lidge and handed the ball to Ryan Madson to face Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn with the bases loaded and the game on the line.
“I want to tell you something. That was a tough call,” Manuel said. “That’s a tough thing for me to do. I have all the respect in the world for Brad. And believe me, I know how good a closer he is, and also I know how great he can be. I still have all the confidence in the world in him. But I’m sitting there and I didn’t have a very good feel about the game, and I made up my mind I wanted to try Madson.”
Well, the move worked brilliantly. Madson struck out Zimmerman on three pitches, then got ahead of Dunn 0-2 and got him to ground out to end the game … and create a major controversy in Philadelphia.
So, Charlie: Who’s going to close tomorrow if you’ve got a lead in the ninth? Will Lidge be back on the mound?
“You know, he could definitely be,” Manuel said. “I’m definitely not going to get away from him. I want to tell you something. We’re going to work with him and we’re going to get him back to where he can get consistent and go out and save games. That’s how I look at it. I’m not saying that he’ll close tomorrow or the next day or whatever, but I look at him as a closer. I don’t look at him as a seventh-inning guy. I don’t look at him as an eighth-inning guy.”
Lidge, who was a stand-up guy in taking questions after a difficult situation, met with Manuel after the game and said the manager told him he would remain as closer. “If it’s a save situation tomorrow, he said he’s going to bring me in,” Lidge said. “I’ll just keep grinding and hopefully this month I’ll be able to get it together and get ready for the postseason.”
Madson was diplomatic about the situation, though he admitted he was surprised to get the call when he did tonight.
“I guess so, yeah,” he said. “But at the same token, I was ready. Whenever you’re out there, you’re ready for your name to be called. One of the first rules you learn: Never think that you’re not going in. Always think that when the phone rings, it’s your name.”
It’s gonna be an interesting September in Philadelphia, with the outcome of this dicey situation sure to have a major impact on the Phillies’ fortunes come October.