- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DENVER | Brad Lidge was at the center of the celebrations, mobbed on the mound and bathed in ice water inside the clubhouse.

Those recent ninth-inning meltdowns? A fading memory for the Philadelphia Phillies closer.

Lidge was struggling badly going into the National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies, blowing a league-high 11 save opportunities during the regular season. Four big outs, two saves and zero runs later, the Phillies just might have their dominant closer back. And the timing couldn’t be better.

Lidge struck out Troy Tulowitzki to end Game 4 on Monday, sending the defending World Series champions to the NL Championship Series. They’ll play Thursday night against Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium in a 2008 NLCS rematch.

Just like Lidge, the Phillies are rounding into shape.

Cliff Lee pitched two masterful games against Colorado, and the offense rediscovered the long ball after a brief power outage. These are looking more and more like the Phillies who beat the Tampa Bay Rays in five games in last season’s World Series.

The Phillies spared no bubbly Monday, dousing everyone within spraying distance. Ryan Howard caught the brunt of it, even getting some of the suds in his eye.

“I’m tasting the pain of success,” Howard said, grinning.

First, though, they had to experience the sting of disappointment.

A talented Phillies team was swept out of the playoffs by the streaking Rockies in 2007, leaving a bitter feeling. That fueled their postseason run last season, and they’re picking up steam again.

“That kind of told us that we weren’t quite ready, that we had to improve mentally and physically,” manager Charlie Manuel said of the series loss in 2007.

The Phillies have done just that, but the celebration Monday was short-lived. The Phillies shifted their attention back to the Dodgers, a team they went 3-4 against in the regular season.

“We know we have a long ways to go, so this is the last party,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “We know that it’s going to be a great series and one of those hectic battles - just like this one.”

All season long, the Phillies have proved adept at the art of the comeback. That was the case again in the series clincher Monday; they rallied for three runs in the ninth off Huston Street.

The usually reliable reliever gave up a two-out, two-run double to Howard and the go-ahead single to Jayson Werth. All that came after Philadelphia squandered the lead an inning before.

“We get to a point where nobody wants to make the last out,” Rollins said. “It’s not spoken about. Everybody goes up there and concentrates more. You try to do whatever you have to do to get on and score runs.”

Street knew closing the game wasn’t going to be easy. It never is against Philadelphia’s potent lineup, which led the NL in homers for the second straight season with a franchise-record 224.

“They’re good players,” Street said. “That group battles you over there.”

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