ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | When the Philadelphia Phillies clinched the National League pennant a week ago, Dan Wheeler sent Brad Lidge a text message.
“Congrats,” it read. “Hope to see you in the Series.”
Who ever would have imagined these two ex-bullpen mates in Houston would wind up going head-to-head in the World Series?
These days, Lidge is the Phillies’ All-Star closer who just completed a 41-for-41 season in save situations. Wheeler is the Tampa Bay Rays’ occasional closer, depending on matchups and the whim of manager Joe Maddon.
But just three years ago, they were both pitching in the World Series for the Astros. Wheeler set up Lidge and doubled as a close confidant.
“He’s one of my best friends in the game,” Wheeler said.
The two experienced some potentially tenuous times in Houston, especially when Lidge hit a rough patch and lost his closer’s job. Wheeler wound up taking over the role.
“It was nothing ever personal,” Wheeler said. “In my opinion, I think he’s one of the greatest closers in the game. He just kind of went through a tough spell. But … look what he’s been able to do, bounce back as well as he has.”
Indeed, Lidge has rediscovered his old form in Philadelphia and put it all on display Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, retiring the side to preserve the Phillies’ 3-2 Game 1 victory.
Not a bad way to erase the memory of a 2005 postseason that featured three blown saves, including two in the World Series.
“For me personally, this is really big,” Lidge said. “The first time you do something, everything’s telling you to go, go, go. Your adrenaline can get the best of you. That experience [in 2005] helped make me better.”
Praise for Maddon
Joe Maddon earned the first of what should be several official accolades this fall when he was named American League manager of the year by a panel of other big league skippers for the Sporting News.
The Tampa Bay skipper took a team with the second-to-lowest payroll in the game to the World Series. He’s also the odds-on favorite to win AL manager of the year honors as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America, but this award was personally gratifying for the 54-year-old.
“Anytime you win an award or part of a group where you are voted in by a group of your peers, it’s most rewarding, gratifying,” he said. “I didn’t realize, quite frankly, that it came from the managers until I read that, also. So I’m very appreciative of that.”
Fredi Gonzalez, who kept the Florida Marlins in the wild card race for most of the season, won the award in the National League.
The series now shifts from the indoor comforts of St. Petersburg to the outdoor elements of Philadelphia, and there are worries the conditions could cause problems with the middle portion of the series.
The forecast for Game 3 on Saturday calls for a 70 percent chance of rain, with temperatures dropping by the end of the weekend into the 30s at night.
Major League Baseball already has prepared a contingency plan in case Game 3 is postponed. The three scheduled games at Citizens Bank Park would each be pushed back a day, negating a planned off day Tuesday.
Thus, if the series went the full seven games, the two teams would play five consecutive days.