Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Don't Blame Lidge

I apologize, to begin, to our readers for the lack of recent posting, but there is little going on in the Twins world right now. Yes, Paul Molitor turned down the hitting coach job and that's unfortunate. It probably reflects a lack of desire to work with Gardenhire, but that's just me. The next best option is likely Tony Olivia or, of course, the Twins can try to find some help outside the organzation, but we know that's unlikely. (But let's pray its anyone but Ullger) Eventually, both of us here at the blog will post needs for the offseason, but lets wait til the season is truly over. Because there is plenty going on.

What I wish to touch on is Game 5 of the NLCS. Albert Pujols, as most baseball fans should know, hit a majestic three-run blast with two outs in the ninth off of Brad Lidge to starve off elimination for the St. Louis Cardinals. It was an amazing feat. Pujols, in that moment, showed what an great, patient, and smart hitter he as he demonstrated his clutch abilites. But, instead of reading about a great game and just how stunning the home run was, lots of pundits are instead concentrating on Brad Lidge.

Lidge emerged last year out of the shell of Billy Wagner and Octavio Dotel to go from a great set-up man to a dominant closer. He set a strikeout record for relivers with 157 last year and absolutely dominanted the playoffs, giving up one run and eight hits in 14 innings with 22 Ks. Those are Riveria-esque numbers and he should that again this season, sparkling with another great campaign. Lidge has two pitches: A 95-99 MPH fastball and likely the best slider in all of baseball. His slider is so good that he has, on many occasions, struck out hitters on three straight sliders. Its simply unhittable. And his fastball isn't too shabby either. So why blame Lidge?

Lots of pundits are saying that he shouldn't have thrown the slider, that he should have walked Pujols or thrown a fastball to challenge him. (With two outs, after striking out two, he gave up a hit to David Eckstein and walked Jim Edmonds) This is ridiculous for many reasons. For one, he didn't have control of the fastball that night (or in Game 4 for that matter). He showed that when he got a strike on Edmonds with his slider before walking him on four straight fastballs. Secondly, Pujols is a great fastball hitter. Challenging that good of a hitter, who is that clutch, in such a calm mindset, with a fastball is just mind-boggling. Lidge is a closer and closers, especially in the postseason, tend to rely on their best pitch for good reasons. If Rivera gave up a home run to Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez in the postseason, would you blame Rivera? No. He would have gone up against the best hitters with a great pitch and lost. Almost 99 percent the time that slider is going to work. But we aren't talking about giving up a homer to John Mabry here. We are talking about Albert Pujols, the best hitter in all of baseball right now.

Pujols, in the easiest terms, simply won the battle. He knew that Lidge would challenge him, but he also knew it was unlikely he would get a pitch to hit or that he would hit the slider hard. But when you have such a pure, powerful swing like Pujols, the slightest miscalculation throws things out of orbit. So lets not be ridiculous guys and lets put things in perspective:

* Pujols is one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. If Babe Ruth hit a Game 4 homer off of Lefty Grove or one of Walter Johnson's infamous fastballs, no one would blame Johnson. Ruth is just that good. So is Pujols.

* Lidge is one of the best closers we have ever seen. His stuff is just nasty and unhittable. What happen should be classic because if you replayed the inning, it probably wouldn't happen again.

* Houston is not done with the series. Everyone acts like Pujols' homer crushed any chance of them winning. How? Houston is up 3-2. Pujols saved the Cardinals, whose starting pitching isn't that great and whose bullpen is a mess. The pressure is all on St. Louis right now. If Lidge comes in to close out Game 6, don't expect a repeat. It won't happen.

* Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt will be pitching the last two games of the series against a very hittable Mark Mulder and the fading Matt Morris. Clemens and Oswalt have won over 400 games combined and are two of the best pitchers in the NL. Mulder has lost his step and Morris hasn't been the same for years. They'll both get knocked around and no one should expect either Oswalt or Clemens to crumble under pressure.

It was a great moment and its unforgettable, but in the end, Houston still has this series. This won't be a repeat of the 86' series between Boston and California, like everyone wants it to be. Its Houston's year and be prepared to watch Lidge celebrate the biggest save of his career in the next 24 hours.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

We know now that the Astros did not need Lidge in game six, but you were absolutely right. Good column!

Just another Peter

Jeff said...

I can't believe the number of people I've heard seriously suggest that Houston should have intentionally walked Pujols. Put the tying run in scoring position, where you don't even have to hit the ball hard, just hit a blooper or bleeder, to score it? Ridiculous. Lidge made a bad pitch and Pujols knew what to do with it. It happens. The Astros moved on. End of story.

Nick M. said...

Agreed. But despite moving on now Lidge did worse. He gave up a home run to Scott Podsednik. Now that really will haunt him.

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