So Philadelphia finally has its first pro sports championship in 25 years, as the Phillies wrapped up a surprisingly easy 4-games-to-1 victory over the Rays in tonight’s bizarre three-inning affair at Citizens Bank Park.
All offseason, people will ask how they did it. Some teams â€” yours possibly included â€” may even try to replicate it. Why? Because that’s what pro sports has become, a multi-millionaire society of copycats. The Giants win the Super Bowl? Get pass rushers. The Diamondbacks win the World Series? Find pocket aces. The Bulls win the NBA title? Get Michael Jordan.
As you can see, it isn’t always easy. You just can’t wish a Jordan onto the roster.
If you’re a Met fan, watching the Phillies win probably made you sick. But it should also make you hopeful. I mean, wasn’t it six or seven weeks ago when the Mets finished their season series 11-7 vs. Philly, a team that couldn’t harm a Johan Santana changeup if their hitters held a blow torch?
There are reasons a chorus of Met detractors will sing from now until next October as to why the Phillies were better. Most will start with names like Howard and Utley, Rollins and Hamels, and say they are better than the Met core. That refrain has been sung already. Get ready to hear it 8,342 more times.
But when you strip away the names and the faces, it was ultimately only one player who separated the NL East rivals: Bradley Thomas Lidge.
The Phillies acquired Lidge for an uninspiring package highlighted by Michael Bourn with the hope their reclamation project would regain his confidence and become the NL’s version of Mariano Rivera. They did this knowing their vicious fan base would turn against him if he blew a save, but this risk was one they had to take. They made the decision with guts, yes, but also out of necessity.
What happened? The Lidge that lost his job in Houston became great again. Better than great actually. He became perfect. Throw out the All-Star Game and the right-hander didn’t blow a save all year.
You could argue the Mets bullpen would’ve missed the Ryan Madsons and J.C. Romeros even if it had Lidge rather than the Wagner/Heilman/Ayala mess, but the fact of the matter is Lidge lifted the Philly ‘pen. They always had him as a safety net, a safety net the Mets never had, especially after Wagner went down.
Joe Smith told me in September it took the bullpen weeks to realize Billy Wagner was gone. Smith said it made all the relievers (even the experienced ones, he noted) rethink how they felt about themselves, and what their roles were in a Wagnerless era.
Without Wagner in ’09, the Mets need to find their Lidge, or something like him. It may require some risk, but it will certainly require oodles of luck. (Case in point: Lidge’s seasons in 2004 and 2005 were far superior to 2008. Check the stats. His WHIP, strikeout rate and walk rate were all far worse this year.)
The Phillies look smart now as champions, but Lidge was once far from a given. Now he’s the difference. The Mets need their Lidge if they can find him. Good luck with that.