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Mixed messages muddle a rocky closer situation in Philly

By September 9, 2009

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The Philadelphia Phillies benefited from the New York Mets' collapses the last two years. Barring a similar collapse of their own, they'll represent the National League East in the playoffs for a third consecutive year.

But you wonder if they don't know how to handle the favorite role so much. The Phillies won on Tuesday, becoming the 12th team in baseball history to have four players with 30 or more homers. But what happened before and after the game will dominate talk today.

Before the game, manager Charlie Manuel said Brad Lidge is his closer, and he's on solid ground. Then, in the ninth inning Tuesday, after Lidge yielded a single, a hit batter, a wild pitch and a walk (and one out), Manuel pulled Lidge. Ryan Madson finished off a 5-3 victory over the Nationals.

This is what Brad Lidge said over the weekend:

"With Charlie, it's been incredible. This season has had a lot of ups and downs, but the whole time he's been, 'Hey, listen. You're my guy. I know you're going to come out of it at some point, so I'm going to stick with you, and that's it.' When that happens, I know I'm going to get out of this, too, and get on a run again, but in the meantime, I don't have to worry about my job also. I think that makes it a lot easier."

Tuesday, sensing his team might not be able to handle another Lidge breakdown, Manuel pulled the plug. But after the game, he sensed he needed to build up his closer, a guy who has blown 10 saves this year after blowing zero in 2008.

“When I say he’s my closer, I don’t tell lies, and I don’t like to go back on nothing,” Manuel told the Associated Press. “But the team and the game is bigger than my heart and is bigger than anything else, if you want to know the truth. Winning a game, that’s why I manage and that’s what comes first, and it was real tough for me to do.”

This is a delicate act. Closing is more than just having good stuff - it's a mentality to get the hardest out of the game, which is the last one. Brett Myers is back from a hip injury, and his velocity is there. He successfully closed for Manuel in 2007, before Lidge came to the Phillies. And Lidge's confidence is obviously fragile. And it's not going to help that every baseball fan has an opinion in Philadelphia, a town that's known for voicing those opinions.

Add it all up, and if Lidge is still closing in October, I'll be surprised.

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